Tag Archives: women

Syria’s refugee brides:’My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family’

y:  Foreign Affairs reporter, Published on Fri Mar 22 2013

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AMMAN, JORDAN—Nezar’s face is tight with expectation as she arrives for the meeting. She is a heavy-set mother of 12 and as she arranges herself on the small sofa in Um Majed’s living room she removes her black veil and the pious black gloves that allow her to shake hands with men who are not her relatives.

Um Majed sets down small cups of hot Turkish coffee to ease the tension. Nezar is a Syrian refugee and looking for a husband for her daughter. She lists the girl’s qualities.

“She is tall and pretty,” she tells Um Majed. “She finished the seventh grade.”

“There is one available. He is Saudi,” Um Majed answers.

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  • Um Majed, 28. is a Syrian refugee, who doesn’t want her real name published because of her shame about what she does for a living: procuring young brides,zoom

This is what Nezar wants to hear. Saudis, flush with petrodollars, will pay well. She has high hopes for this Saudi.

So does Um Majed who will earn a $287 fee if the two sides agree to the match.

Um Majed, 28, is also a Syrian refugee, a former housewife from Homs. Um Majed isn’t her actual name but a respectable Arab moniker meaning ‘mother of Majed,’ her young son. She doesn’t want her full name published because of her shame about what she does for a living: procuring brides, some as young as 12, for men as old as 70 from all over the Middle East in exchange for money.

The Star in Syria:

Nezar too was a homemaker in Homs who arrived in Jordan last year. Her husband was a taxi driver but he can no longer work because he has a heart condition. Her son is badly injured.

“He was a fighter with the resistance army and they were removing a roadblock the regime set up on the street when he was hit by a missile,” she explains. “Four others died. He has had three surgeries and needs another one.”

Her daughter Aya is their best hope.

“My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family,” Nezar says. “If the war had not happened I would not marry my daughter to a Saudi. But the Syrians here are poor and have no money.”

Nezar’s daughter is 17. The Saudi groom is 70.

Stories of men fighting and dying to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime have fixated the world but for women the war has different, troubling dimensions. Syrian women and their children make up 75 per cent of the 429,000 refugees in Jordan. The vast majority do not live in the camps set up by the Jordanian authorities. They flood into cities like Amman where they live on the charity of kindly Jordanians and aid organizations.

Many of these women are not equipped to support their families, having been raised to keep the home and hearth while husbands and fathers provided for them. The true cost of how the war is ripping apart the nation is evident in the brutal life choices Syrian women are forced to make to survive.

Grasping for the security of a husband and home, hundreds of girls are being sold into early marriage. These are undoubtedly forced marriages but the truth has several shades of grey: some mothers believe they are protecting their daughters from further hardship and violence, others are desperate to pay the bills. Yet their voices are rarely heard because their lives are lived behind closed doors, their private tragedies not shared with outsiders.

“If you see how Syrians here live you will see why they marry their daughters to whoever will take them,” Um Majed says. “People are poor and they will do anything to pay the rent.”

 

The surplus of desperate Syrian refugees means marriage has become a buyer’s market with some grooms offering as little as $100 cash for a bride.

The legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18 but some religious clerics will marry underage girls for a small fee. This puts the girls at even greater risk for exploitation because some of Um Majed’s clients want a temporary union lasting a few weeks or months after which the girl is returned to her parents.

In other words, it is religiously sanctioned prostitution.

“One of my brides has been married three, four times,” Um Majed says. “She is 15.”

Yet Nezar believes she is saving Aya from a life of hardship. What are her daughter’s prospects in Jordan where she has no right to work? There is little hope of the war ending and returning home. She will soon become a burden on her parents. No, a life in Saudi Arabia with a husband who can provide a home and children, perhaps send money back to Jordan, is the answer.

She admits the marriage market is hazardous. Most of the potential grooms offer a few dollars to leer at her daughter.

“You are already selling your daughter, you might as well sell her to someone decent,” she says.

Nezar cuts the meeting short. Aya is having belly-dancing lessons to increase her appeal to the elderly groom.

“I will take 3,000 dinars ($4,300) from him,” she tells Um Majed. “If he was younger I would accept 2,000 dinars.”

*

In the old days, the neighbourhood busybody, a matronly figure, was the matchmaker. She would appraise the unmarried girls on her street on behalf of the grooms’ families. At the Turkish bath, the would-be bride was paraded like a prizewinning filly: her mane tugged to check she wasn’t wearing a wig, a walnut cracked between her molars to make sure her teeth were real. In a society where women, especially unmarried girls, do not mingle with men not related to them, or even venture outside the home at risk of being labelled sexually loose, many families relied on matchmakers to find the right bride for their sons.

Um Majed raises a cynical eyebrow at this innocent archetype as she strikes a match and lights a cigarette. She became a matchmaker when she approached a local Islamist charity for food and the manager asked if she “knew any pretty girls.”

“I have 10 families looking for grooms,” she says. “Their girls are between 12 and 21. The grooms are always in their 40s, 50s, or 70s. They want beautiful girls, the younger the better.”

She pauses and takes a drag of the cigarette.

“The Saudis usually ask for 12-year-olds.”

 

As she sees it, life has become about exploiting or being exploited.

“I have to feed my children,” she says.

“What does freedom mean?” she asks. “We were living with pride and in our own country. I asked my husband this question. He said that they are Alawites and we fight them. But the Saudis are Sunni like us and they harass Syrian girls. Is this religion? Is this freedom?”

Her husband owned a car wash in Homs. Last year, he was hit by a stray bullet and after Um Majed nursed him back to health he joined a militia fighting with the Free Syrian Army.

“I now wish the bullet pierced his heart,” she says bitterly. “He abandoned me to fight and left me with the burden of supporting the family.”

Syrian brides have always been sought after, especially by Gulf Arab men. There is an expression which roughly translates as ‘he who does not marry a Damascene will never know a night of peace.’

The stereotype of the houriya, Levantine beauties with pale faces, speaking the melodious Syrian Arabic dialect and purveyors of a famous cuisine holds great appeal. A Syrian hostess’s reputation can rest on the balance between the olive oil and lemon juice in her tabbouleh salad.

In the Middle East, the groom or his family are expected to provide maher, roughly translated as dowry. If he is a good catch he will approach the girl’s family with a fully furnished flat, perhaps a car, and bank statement proving his savings.

Zayed Hamad who runs Kitab al Sunna, a Sunni Islamist charity that helps women refugees and receives funding from Saudi Arabia, says he receives 100 phone calls, emails and even text messages a month from grooms all over the Middle East looking for wives. Some are looking for a bargain.

“Some believe if they marry a Syrian girl it is cheaper,” he says. “I get approached by the brothers but I say it is not my responsibility to find them brides.”

He says it is a good thing as these girls will have more secure futures.

*

Eman is a typical Damascene beauty with her pale skin and hazel eyes. At 29, she is considered an older bride and has two daughters from her ex-husband whom she divorced because she caught him in bed with his sister-in-law.

Eman is tired of the war and its slogans.

“I curse the people who call for freedom,” she says. “But Bashar invited the devil to Syria.”

She fled to Amman with her girls late last year. All refugees are meant to stay in the Zaatari camp, a dusty, sometimes violent shanty town on the north border. The main drag is nicknamed the Champs Elysees and sells everything from shoes to shawarmas. Women dig small holes in the ground near their tents to avoid trips in the dark to the public toilets because they are afraid.

Eman refuses to live there. “It’s horrible,” she says. Instead, she rents a small apartment in Amman with her children, sister and mother for 150 dinars a month.

But life in the capital without the protection of a husband or father is hard. When Eman first arrived she would go to charities and mosques for food and mattresses where her soft Syrian accent immediately attracted attention.

“Wherever I go I get proposals,” she says with more weariness than pride. “They ask, can I smell your perfume for 20 dinars? ($28) Can you lift your veil for 35 dinars ($50)? I’d rather die of hunger than do something wrong.”

Just yesterday she heard about a rich man giving away cash at the local mosque so she went to investigate.

“He was giving $100 and gave money to all the others and told me to wait,” Eman says. “When everyone was done he asked me to call him in the morning at his hotel. I said I’d come with my mother. He said come alone. He would give double the money. I told him he was ridiculous.”

She works from home, shelling peanuts for a factory and earning 2.5 dinars ($3.50) for every 10 kilograms of nuts she peels. Eman wants to marry soon so she doesn’t have to expose herself to unwanted attention.

“I want a real husband and a real marriage, someone like Muhandin,” she says, and giggles. He is a Turkish actor in a popular soap opera.

Um Majed, though, has no time for romantic dreams.

A new client, a Jordanian man aged 29 wants a young bride from the Zaatari camp. He will give Um Majed fake documents and they will pose as charity workers to gain access to the families and size up their daughters.

“Some families accept 50 dinars (72) to let the groom look at their girls,” she says. She has done this ruse several times.

Um Majed will get her cut for brokering the arrangement. But she insists it will be a food package, not cash.

 

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/03/22/young_brides_displaced_by_syria_conflict_sought_by_older_grooms.html

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Identity and the Jordanian Elections

Posted By Laurie A. Brand , Fayez Hammad   Thursday, January 17, 2013 – 1:50 PM

The period of Arab uprisings that began in winter 2010 to 2011 has brought myriad changes to the region. However, one perennial constant is the willingness of official and semi-official elements in Jordan to manipulate identity issues in order to stymie meaningful reform. Indeed, given the past history of the Jordanian government, the most recent developments could be viewed as simply boring, were they not so deeply cynical and destructive.

The newest chapter in this ongoing saga of who is a Jordanian — native East Bankers, certainly; Jordanians of Palestinian origin, not so much or perhaps not at all — has come in response to the upcoming parliamentary elections. With only a few exceptions, most notably in 1956 and 1989, elections in Jordan have been highly controlled affairs, in which the outcomes have been largely cooked beforehand, either through changes in the electoral law (as in 1993), or through outright fraud (most notably, but certainly not exclusively, in 1997 and 2007). On occasion, when it is argued that “regional conditions” are problematic, elections have been postponed, as in the early 2000s, and in many cases some of the most significant opposition forces, most recently the Muslim Brotherhood, have decided to boycott rather than play the palace’s or security forces’ game. 

King Abdullah’s response to the domestic impact of the winds of discontent sweeping the region has been to call for several key “reforms.” The most important among them has been amending the constitution and revising the electoral law — all in the context of the usual palace response to domestic unhappiness: the dismissal of four prime ministers in less than two years. Among the 2011 constitutional amendments, the most potentially significant for the holding of elections was the establishment of an independent electoral commission to oversee the process of registration and voting, chaired by the respected former Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah al-Khatib. However, the electoral law itself, for which there had been great hopes of significant change, was modified only at the margins. The primary opposition demand had been the return to a multiple-vote system in place in 1989, which allowed electors to vote not only for a tribal or clan candidate, but also for other candidates who might represent a more political or ideological choice. Instead, the one-person, one-vote system, which was first implemented in 1993 to reduce the representation in parliament of Islamists, was amended only to the extent that now 27 seats are set aside for national lists, while the total number of parliamentary seats was increased from 120 to 150.

This designation of national list seats, along with the increase in the number of seats in several urban districts, was a kind of consolation prize for Jordanians of Palestinian origin (JPs). This is because they are heavily concentrated in these districts, they are seen as the primary constituency for more ideological parties (especially the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front), and because the current configuration of electoral districts and the seats allotted to them significantly underrepresents JPs in parliament. This underrepresentation is but one aspect of JP second class citizenship, and there have been increasing calls, indeed unparalleled ones, since the beginning of what the king likes to call the “Jordanian spring” to redress this citizenship deficit.

That kind of reform, however, is an outcome that certain segments of the Transjordanian population find intolerable. Indeed, it was apparently members of the so-called old guard and other “traditional powers” that were responsible in 2011 for pressuring the National Dialogue committee, which was looking into possible changes in the electoral law, to ignore calls for allowing Jordanian expatriates (the majority of whom are JPs) to vote from abroad. More dangerous, however, have been increasing calls from the more extreme voices in these sectors for actually disenfranchising JPs altogether. Some calls have come from ultra-nationalist retired military officers; others have come from Transjordanians who otherwise fancy themselves “leftists.” (Only in Jordan could those who call for discriminating against fellow citizens, indeed, for depriving them of their already second-class citizenship status, be considered leftists simply because they criticize neoliberal economic policies.) 

Historically, the justification for concern about full integration of JPs into Jordan derived from the fear that the Israeli government would use such a development to claim that Jordan was in fact the Palestinian state, and that therefore there was no need for a “second Palestinian state” in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, in 1989, it was rumored that Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasir Arafat had urged JPs not to participate in the elections, precisely for this reason. Over time, the concern that Israel would stymie a peace settlement on the grounds that a Palestinian state already existed in Jordan (known as the alternative homeland,al-watan al-badil), has been transmogrified into an expectation among some Transjordanians that Jordan will become largely free of Palestinians in the context of a two-state solution. Zionist policies and threats over the years have played a major role in heightening Jordanian sensitivities regarding the alternative homeland (al-watan al-badil) scenario. Yet, it is also the case that the al-watan al-badil threat is trotted out virtually any time one political faction or another seeks to discredit a particular political or economic proposal. The threat has been used most recently implicitly to call into question the legitimacy of JP political rights, and has, thereby played a major role in the relative absence of Palestinians (except as part of the Muslim Brotherhood) from opposition demonstrations.

The elections scheduled for January 23 have been billed by the palace as a centerpiece in the king’s reform process which is received so warmly during his appearances on the Daily Show and in interviews with the western press and diplomats, (although Abdullah also regularly stresses in such settings that Jordan and Jordanians are not yet ready for full democracy). He and other officials have repeatedly insisted that the January 2013 elections will be free and fair as a way of reinforcing his commitment to real reform and securing domestic legitimation for his approach through a respectable turnout. The first step toward ultimately claiming success required securing sufficient registration numbers, and when potential voters did not initially flock to register — in part because the Muslim Brotherhood had announced its intention to boycott the elections, but also, likely, because of past experience with fraud and the futility of the exercise — repeated exhortations were made, many arms were likely twisted, and ultimately, the deadline was extended and the vote postponed by two months.

It was certainly a sign of the regime’s desperation that, during the process of trying to legitimize the vote through respectable voter inscription, the state turned to JPs, the sector which it has often otherwise found expendable; the sector which has seen arbitrary passport withdrawals continue, despite claims of royal opposition to the practice. In need of support, government officials targeted the JP refugee camps, urging the camp leadership to mobilize the residents to register. Ultimately the national registration numbers reached 2.3 million, well beyond the government’s 2 million goal.

Now, with only days remaining before the vote, the palace and the government are keen to ensure a robust turnout, and to do so they need JP support. To that end Prime Minister Abdallah Ensour recently met with a delegation of mukhtars and other notables from the refugee camps who issued a statement urging camp residents to participate in the upcoming vote. That expression of citizenship was welcomed by, indeed, certainly solicited by the government. Yet only a few days earlier, Nsour had referred to refugee camps residents as Palestinians, not Jordanians. Those statements were no doubt intended to resonate well with the Transjordanian sector of the population eager for the ultimate evacuation of these JP camp residents from “their” country.

The elections on January 23 offer insights into a variety of critical issues facing the kingdom, the most important of which is what they portend for the development of real citizenship, regardless of social class, gender, religion, or communal origin. A betting (wo)man would be well advised to place her or his money on an outcome of little to no serious change, in no small measure because the actions of the palace speak louder than its words. The election law virtually guarantees that the same set of forces that have participated in the regime’s strategy of minimal or cosmetic reform will once again be elected. Indeed, the palace’s policy seems aimed today, as it has been in most previous elections, at avoiding uncertainty of outcome. Yet uncertainty is a central part of any true democratic process.

The continued instrumentalization of JPs (and of Transjordanians, but that is a story for another day) is just one manifestation of the lack of serious commitment to reform, a form of debilitating legal-political corruption deliberately aimed at undermining the possibilities for real national unity to address the daunting political and economic challenges ahead. Sadly, proclamations of commitment to reform notwithstanding, there is little reason to think that the decades-old strategy of promoting national disunity as a pillar of regime maintenance will be revisited or revised any time soon.

http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/17/identity_and_the_jordanian_elections

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Rawabdeh named 4th most influential Arab woman in gov’t sector

 JT | Mar 17, 2013 | 20:09 Updated: Mar 17, 2013 | 22:02

Nadia Rawabdeh

AMMAN  – Nadia Rawabdeh, director general of the Social Security Corporation (SSC), ranked fourth in a recently launched list of the most influential Arab women in the government sector.

Compiled by Forbes Middle East, the list covered 30 Arab women in the government field, according to an SSC statement e-mailed to The Jordan Times on Sunday.

The website of Forbes Middle East, which also launched a list of the most influential Arab women in family business, said the criteria to determine the rankings included collating and analysing information sourced from official government and company websites, along with Forbes’ own resources and relevant data pertaining to women in high-profile business and government roles.

Rawabdeh came fourth after the UAE’s Amina Al Rustamani, group CEO of TECOM Investments.

UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi topped the list, while her compatriot Salma Hareb, CEO of JAFZA and Economic Zones World, was second.

Rawabdeh was appointed SSC director in August 2012 and prior to the appointment she held several posts in the corporation over 25 years of service.

These include head of the insurance rights department, president of the investment portfolio department, director of the retirement and compensations department and director of the quality and risk analysis department.

http://jordantimes.com/rawabdeh-named-4th-most-influential-arab-woman-in-govt-sector

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Young Jordanians weigh in on post-2012 development goals in Amman forum

by Khetam Malkawi | Mar 14, 2013 | 21:50

AMMAN — Arab youths have led calls for reform and they were in the forefront of those who demanded modernisation and development in their countries, HRH Princess Basma said on Thursday.

Thus, the princess added, young people should have the largest and most important role in the formation of their future and the future of this world.

Addressing a group of young Jordanians, the princess, who is also a goodwill ambassador for the UNFPA, said: “You are participating now” in drafting goals that are in line with your priorities in this era, which is witnessing big changes that have been sweeping the world over the past few years.

The princess, who made the remarks at the opening of the “Jordan Youth National Consultation Meeting on Post-2012”, added that young people have a lot to say to form their future, but their chances to be heard are few.

“This meeting is a precious opportunity” for them to have their voices heard by decision makers, she noted.

The two-day meeting, which is organised by UNFPA in partnership with the Higher Youth Council, and attended by 100 young people, is a result of a series of consultations that the UNFPA has facilitated to give the younger generation a voice in shaping the global development agenda after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

It is one of a number of UN-led consultations in the country on the shape of the post-2015 global development agenda.

Muna Mohammed Idris, UNFPA assistant representative in Jordan, said the forum is being held to give young people an opportunity to share their perspectives on their future within the global context and to build a coalition with those attending the meeting to work as an advisory panel for UNFPA Jordan country office youth-related programmes.

In a speech delivered by World Food Programme Country Director Maha Ahmed on behalf of UN Resident Coordinator Costanza Farina, the UN official said Jordan has made considerable progress in achieving the majority of the MDGs, as well as the level of preparations and readiness for the development agenda beyond 2015.

She added that young Jordanians have a role to play, especially with all the challenges and changes they are facing, as they are the only ones able to respond to these challenges in innovative ways.

“Today, with good investment and correct guidance, the youth can reach their full potential as individuals, leaders and as agents of progress,” she noted.

In addition to the participants in the consultation, youths all over Jordan are able to contribute to the meeting virtually through Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks.

This event is part of a series of activities that are taking place in different countries to come up with the necessary data to finalise a framework for the MDGs post-2015 and to identify development priorities for the post-2015 agenda as well as the ICPD Beyond 2014 process.

The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

The eight MDGs are reducing child mortality, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, improving maternal health, combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating global partnerships for development.

A total of 191 states, including Jordan, have committed themselves to achieving these goals by the year 2015.

The International Conference on Population and Development

• In 1994, 179 countries met in Cairo for the ICPD, where all aspects of human life were addressed comprehensively

• A 20-year programme of action was developed recognising that population is not about numbers but about people’s quality of life

• All 179 countries agreed that education and health rights, including reproductive health rights are a prerequisite for sustainable development

• They also agreed on a road map for progress with the following main goals:

– Universal access to reproductive health services by 2015

– Universal primary education/closing the gender gap in education by 2015

– Reducing maternal mortality by 75% by 2015

– Reducing infant mortality

– Increasing life expectancy

– Reducing HIV infection rates

 

http://jordantimes.com/young-jordanians-weigh-in-on-post-2012-development-goals-in-amman-forum

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International Women’s Day: A Jordanian Entrepreneur’s Impact on Education, the Workforce, and Society

Posted: 03/07/2013 3:17 pm

Today, I would like to reflect on the progress women are making in the global economy by highlighting the work of one woman who has been a source of inspiration for many: Randa Ayoubi. Randa is a woman entrepreneur from Jordan who had a dream of enhancing the lives of children by raising educational standards through multimedia learning.

Nearly 20 years ago, after her studies in computer science at Texas Tech, Randa returned to Jordan to work at a bank. However, Randa wanted a different path and aspired to be her own boss and contribute to society. She started a software business called Rubicon where she became one of Jordan’s pioneers in multimedia software for education at a time when rural poverty and the lack of teachers in villages was a big issue.

randaayoubi_23Randa exemplifies how the lives of women around the world have improved dramatically over the past century. According to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, gender gaps in primary education have closed in almost all countries. And over the last 30 years, more than half a billion women have joined the world’s labor force. Progress has been made in other areas as well, such as formal rights and constitutional guarantees for women.

Randa started her company with only $60,000 and two employees. Her creative nature, passion for animation, and desire to improve the quality of education across the Arab world led her to create the “Ben & Izzy” cartoon series. The cartoon focused on the difficult relationship between two boys, one American and the other Jordanian, conveying how co-operation is more productive than conflict as well as creating awareness and appreciation for differences.

Today, Rubicon employs more than 300 employees in four locations: Jordan (Amman), the United States (Los Angeles), the Philippines (Manila) and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai). It has partnered with some of the biggest names in Hollywood to co-create feature length films and cartoon series such as Postman Pat and Pink Panther. She has also expanded into other areas of digital content, including e‐learning, electronic game development, and virtual reality technical training.

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers has been a mentor to Randa. Since the start of their relationship in 2004, John has thought of Randa as his “adopted CEO” and has given her insight into Cisco’s best business practices, good governance, and corporate culture.

Randa has inspired her employees to become entrepreneurs themselves and to open their own businesses while providing them with mentorship, similar to what she received from John.

Randa states, “John, that is what I have learned from you all, that it isn’t just about the leaders or the owners doing well, but it’s about the whole company sharing in it too. And I wouldn’t have done that if hadn’t been for Cisco.”

I love to tell Randa’s story because she is a true entrepreneur who had the vision and perseverance to develop a strong business plan focused on niche verticals within the digital content industry. She has recruited and retained a high-quality workforce and empowered her employees with the latest technology so their creativity could flourish. She is an inspiration to women around the world, is highly supportive of women’s issues, and is truly a special human being.

Randa’s story is particularly relevant today, International Women’s Day. For more than 100 years, International Women’s Day has been observed in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognized for their economic, political, and social achievements, as well as an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments.

More importantly, it is an opportunity to look ahead to the untapped potential and prospects that await future generations of women.

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tae-yoo/international-womens-day-_18_b_2829001.html

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Guest Post: The Politics of Egypt’s Rape Epidemic

by Guest Blogger for Robert M. Danin
February 26, 2013

This post is written by Allison Nour, a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In a powerful scene from the 2010 Egyptian film “678,” a veiled woman boards a crowded public bus on her way to work, squeezing through a mass of passengers in search of a space where she will feel least vulnerable to attack. Inevitably, though, groping hands reach her and she has no choice but to endure or try to quietly move away without drawing attention.

For many women in Egypt, this scene is far too familiar—warding off potential harassment has long been a part of their daily lives. A study conducted in 2008 found that 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed in public and nearly half described the harassment as occurring on a daily basis. Few women file formal complaints against attackers, either out of fear, embarrassment, or the recognition that the police are unlikely to pursue such cases.

But in recent months, this atmosphere of impunity has combined with Egypt’s volatile politics to produce a spike in harassment and a new trend of violent sexual attacks. These mob attacks are directed primarily against women demonstrators in Tahrir Square. On the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprisings on January 25, at least nineteen female demonstrators were sexually assaulted. The reports are shocking: In first-hand accounts, women have described being suddenly set upon by large groups of men, groped, stripped of their clothing, and raped. At least one woman was sexually assaulted with a bladed weapon.

Yet the Morsi administration has done absolutely nothing to respond to this unprecedented, intensely violent, and organized wave of attacks. Inconceivably and unconscionably, the Egyptian president has yet to utter a public word to acknowledge the problem. His prime minister, Hisham Qandil, has offered only a passing reference to possible new legislation to address the issue. With clear video evidence of attacks shown on television and online, the government either lacks the will or the ability to confront the situation.

More unfortunate than the government’s failure to act is the exacerbation of the problem by some in government and among the Salafi leadership. During a meeting of the Shura Council last week, elected representatives—most of them Islamists—blamed the victims for their attacks. As a Salafi member of the Asala Party put it, “Women sometimes bring rape upon themselves by putting themselves in positions which make them subject to rape.” In a video posted to YouTube, an Egyptian Salafi preacher declares that women protesting in Tahrir Square “want to be raped” and are attending the demonstrations either because they are “Crusaders” or “widows who have no one to control them.”

These comments, while shocking to many Egyptian observers, unfortunately reflect the sentiments of many others in the country. Many Egyptians still believe that the blame for sexual harassment falls largely on women who fail to behave “modestly.” At best, the Morsi administration’s failure to address the problem stems from a belief that sexual harassment is a natural consequence of women participating in demonstrations. At worst, the government is complicit in the attacks as a means to tamp down turnout at demonstrations. Either way, with economic turmoil and electoral debates dominating public debate, the issue is unlikely to become a priority anytime soon.

The women at the center of “678”—fed up with feeling helpless in the face of harassment in the public domain—decided to fight back by carrying weapons and stabbing their attackers. While the story was powerfully portrayed, I remember thinking their approach was unlikely to catch on in real life. But as the problem of sexual harassment intensifies with no end in sight, I couldn’t help but think of the film as women brandished knives at a recent anti-harassment demonstration in Talaat Harb Square. As with so many of the challenges facing Egypt, if left unaddressed by the powers that be, those who suffer most will find a way to fight back, even if doing so means drawing the country further into chaos.

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Study: Social media and the Internet allowed young Arab women to play a central role in the Arab Spring

May 22nd, 2012 in Other Sciences / Social Sciences

 

Over the course of 2011’s momentous Arab Spring uprisings, young women in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen used social media and cyberactivism to carve out central roles in the revolutionary struggles under way in their countries, according to a new study commissioned by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The study, “Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and Women’s Role in the Arab Uprisings,” explores the activism of several key figures, including Egypt’s Esraa Abdel Fattah, who became widely known as “Facebook girl,” as well Libya’s Danya Bashir, Bahrain’s Zeinab and Maryam al-Khawaja and Tunisia’s Lina Ben Mhenni, who became known as the uprising’s “Twitterati,” dubbed by influential media and pundits as “must-follows.”

The paper was written by Courtney Radsch, a doctoral candidate in international relations at American University and an internationally recognized expert on  and activism in the Middle East.

Exploring such contexts as political rights and elections, the public sphere,  against women as well as post-revolution developments, Radsch shows how these and other women transcended and broke with  and communication methods to help organize virtual protests as well as street demonstrations; these women also played bridging roles with the  and helped to ensure that the 24-hour news cycle always had a source at the ready.

“Not only have cyberactivism and social-media platforms shifted the power dynamics of authoritarian Arab governments and their citizenry, but it has also reconfigured power relations between the youth who make up the majority of the population and the older generation of political elite, who were overwhelmingly male and often implicated in the perpetuation of the status quo,” Radsch said.

“While women and men struggle valiantly to bring about political change, these women cyberactivists stand out for their use of new media technologies and access to platforms that transcended national boundaries and created bridges with transnational media and activist groups.”

Radsch cautions against viewing her findings outside of current developments in the Middle East; she points to widespread, post-revolution crackdowns on pro-reform activists in countries swept up by the Arab Spring. “The struggle to consolidate revolution and enact meaningful reforms remains a challenge that young women will continue to be involved in, and (they will) undoubtedly continue to use new media technologies to participate in and influence the future trajectory of their countries,” she said.

More information: “Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and Women’s Role in the Arab Uprisings”: 
http://bakerinstit … n-051712.pdf

Provided by Rice University

 

“Study: Social media and the Internet allowed young Arab women to play a central role in the Arab Spring.” May 22nd, 2012. http://phys.org/news/2012-05-social-media-internet-young-arab.html

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