Entries in Women (30)


King Abdullah Appoints Women to Advisory Council in Saudi Arabia

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/GettyImages(RIYADH, Saudia Arabia) -- For the first time in Saudia Arabia, women have been named to the king's advisory body known as the Shura Council. It has no legislative power, but the move is politically significant in the conservative kingdom where women aren't allowed to drive or travel without a male guardian.  

Before the publication of the royal decrees, King Abdullah consulted religious experts to ensure that female participation on the council would comply with Islamic law, BBC News reports.

Women will make up 30 of the 150 members, the bare minimum allowed by the king's decree.

Men and women will be separated by a screen and will come in through a separate entrance, to ensure gender segregation.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


A City of Saudi Women: Segregation Setback or More Women in the Workplace?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(EASTERN PROVINCE, Saudi Arabia) -- Separate has never meant equal in Saudi Arabia. Yet a new women-only development in Saudi’s Eastern Province is aimed at moving women forward, easing more women into the workplace.

The new industrial city is expected to create about 5,000 jobs in women-run factories and firms, The Guardian reported.  The developer released a statement, saying the site was equipped, "for women workers…consistent with the privacy of women according to Islamic guidelines and regulations."

Women and men are kept separate in the Saudi kingdom, where a strict interpretation of Islam dominates the public arena. That poses a specific challenge to women workers, especially at the lower end of the income scale. They often can't interview for jobs with male bosses and need special accommodations to get to work, since they can’t drive themselves or spend their wages on a driver.

That's why Samar Fatany, a Saudi radio host and one of the kingdom’s prominent women voices, said the all-female development is a good thing: It may strike us as just more segregation, but to Saudi eyes it looks like empowerment.

"Otherwise, they won’t have that kind of opportunity to work," Fatany told ABC News. "Their culture and environment won’t let them work any other way."

"It's an opportunity to have an income, be financially independent," Fatany added. "It's an economic necessity."

That point was clear on an ABC News trip to Saudi Arabia in 2010, where I visited with women at all-female factories in Riyadh. Of all the women who worked the assembly lines packing boxes and manufacturing light fixtures, most of the women were single mothers abandoned by their husbands and desperately in need of an income. A wall separated them from the male factory workers on the other side, with just a few conveyer belts snaking through to unite the production line.

Those women wanted to work in segregated quarters. With their conservative families and personal religious values, they wouldn’t have taken a job that would involve mixing with men.

The new development falls in line with a Saudi government push to put more women in the workplace, a delicate balance between a more modern Saudi Arabia and the occasional backlash from conservative clerics.

If Saudi men feel threatened by women’s empowerment, it may be because they're suddenly being outperformed in the workplace.

"To me, a Saudi woman is a better worker than the Saudi men," said Khaled Al Maeena, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette. "They work hard and they try harder."

Al Maeena, who is married to Samar Fatany, said Saudi women place more value on their hard-won opportunities.

"Women are more committed, they like to work more, they don’t give excuses, disappearing as men do," he said. "It’s a state of mind."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Egypt: Women Sexually Assaulted at March Against Sexual Harassment

Egyptian protesters shout slogans at a protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, June 8, 2012. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)(CAIRO) -- Egyptian activists held a daylong blogging and tweeting campaign to end sexual harassment on Wednesday in response to a violent attack by mobs of men on a march against harassment in central Cairo on June 8. The men had groped and sexually assaulted a small group of women in Tahrir Square who had assembled to protest widespread sexual harassment.

Though sexual harassment has been an issue in Egypt for years, activists say it has been used, over the past year, as a political tool by the old guard in order to counter the revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

"Since March 2011 there has been an increased trend of sexual assault and harassment, especially by the military and police," alleged Mozn Hassan, executive director of Nazra, a feminist group.

During the early days of Egypt's revolution in 2011, prior to Mubarak's departure, activists said that protests were remarkably free of the groping and harassment that has long marked public gatherings in Egypt. But since Mubarak stepped down, incidents of sexual harassment and assault against female activists have made international headlines. Military-administered "virginity tests" of detained female protestors were followed by a brutal assault on female protestors by policemen in November 2011 and the internationally circulated photos, in December 2011, of a veiled woman beaten to the ground by soldiers, ripping off her clothes to expose her blue bra.

While the attack on June 8 was not carried out by members of the armed forces, activists say it was the same kind of group assault in which a mob of men, sometimes as many as 50 at a time, surrounded a woman, groped and stripped her, and inserted their fingers into her private parts. One female activist who said she was assaulted recounted on her blog, "The moment I fell, hands were reaching to my pants unfastening them, instinctively I fought to refasten as I was trying to get up […] the mob was all over me with seemingly no one able or willing to help out."

Some activists believe the attack was a premeditated attempt to discourage women from taking part in political life. "The men were very determined, they were moving in groups, they all knew each other and it just felt organized, reminiscent of the Baltagiya during the revolution," said Shady Khalil, a protestor who participated in the June 8 march. The "baltagiya" refers to mobs of men believed to have been paid by the Mubarak regime to attack the protestors in Tahrir Square, famously carrying out one raid on camelback.

@jazkhalifa, a tweeter participating in Wednesday's online campaign, expressed a feeling widely echoed online. "Sexual harassment," wrote @jazkhalifa, is a tool to keep women out of the public spaces (streets) and forcing them into the private spaces (homes)."

Activists concede that they cannot prove that the attack was a coordinated effort, though they claim it is consistent with what they allege has been a concerted effort by the ruling military regime to discredit the revolution and discourage women from taking part in protests.

Despite the many reported incidents and promises of investigations, activists say there is a culture of impunity that surrounds sexual harassment. "There is no political will to punish anybody, whether civilians or members of the armed forces who are supposed to protect people," said Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch. "This signals that the state doesn't prioritize combating violence against women and that it is acceptable". The "virginity tests" of 2011 were the only alleged incidents of abuse to have been investigated and the alleged perpetrators were officially exonerated.

Yet while accountability is lacking, activists note that the revolution has made people more likely to speak up and report incidents. But Engy Ghozlan, who co-founded HarassMap, a website that uses crowdsourcing to map incidents of sexual harassment in Cairo, acknowledges that they are fighting entrenched behavior. "In our society," said Ghozland, "men [need to] understand that my presence as a woman is acceptable and not an attack on them. This cannot be achieved by a president or one person. It is a very long-term process."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Afghanistan Now the Second Worst Country for Mothers

Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Being ranked the second worst country in the world for mothers is obviously not something Afghanistan should boast about.

However, the Save the Children survey does have one saving grace: at least Afghanistan is not first on the list as it's been for the past two years.  That distinction now belongs to the African nation of Niger.

In its annual report, Save the Children maintains that Afghanistan has made enough progress in some areas to take the country off the top of the dubious list.

Senior Director for Nutrition Karin Lapping says “more and more we are seeing that there are higher skills of those accompanying women when they are giving birth.  That actually rose by 10 percentage points.  We are also seeing that female life expectancy in Afghanistan is getting better and has gone up almost five years."

On the flip side, Afghanistan remains number one for chronic malnutrition of all countries ranked, while half the population does not have access to safe drinking water.

Tragically, one Afghan woman in 11 dies of pregnancy-related causes, making it the highest lifetime risk of maternal mortality.

In the survey, Norway ranks the best for mothers, while the U.S. moved up six places to 25.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Human Rights Watch Cites Abusive Treatment of Afghan Women

Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A new report by the Human Rights Watch alleges that women in Afghanistan are still treated as second-class citizens even under the guise of a democratic government.

In a statement, the group's executive director Kenneth Roth said, "It is shocking that ten years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage."

For instance, a woman attempting to end a marriage to an abusive husband can be convicted of a "morals crime" and sentenced to as many as 15 years in jail.

The 120-page report based on interviews with women held in Afghan prisons describes females being beaten nearly to death by their husbands and forced to take spouses at an age when they are still considered children.

Other women said they were forced into prostitution -- including some girls as young as 14 -- then arrested and thrown into prison.

Human Rights Watch expressed concerns that if Afghan President Hamid Karzai negotiates a peace deal with the Taliban, what little progress women have made in Afghanistan will be rolled back if the country returns to a strict adherence of Sharia law.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush Come Together for Women of Afghanistan

Astrid Riecken/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush may have been political opposites as first ladies, but they’re in lock step on one important issue: improving the lives of women in Afghanistan.

In her introduction of Bush, the guest of honor at the 10th anniversary celebration of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, Clinton called herself and Mrs. Bush part of a “very small group.”

“And it’s a group that has made a great contribution in so many ways during the course of our country’s history,” she said.

She referenced Dolly Madison, who had famously saved White House treasures during the war of 1812, as one example of how America’s first ladies have influenced history.

“There are some stories which are well known, and other stories which have yet to be told, and, I hope, some stories that never see the light of day,” she joked to a laughing crowd.

But the subject of the day, the plight of Afghan women, was no laughing matter. The U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council was founded by President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2002, to support programs focused on empowering Afghan women in health, education and business.

Bush thanked Clinton profusely before talking about how the events of 9/11 shaped her commitment to helping women in Afghanistan. She recalled the radio address she gave in November of 2001, which focused on the difficulty of living under the Taliban for Afghani women.

“The stark contrast between our lives and of women in Afghanistan horrified American women,” Bush said, recalling an earlier time, when the plight of Afghani women was just becoming known to Americans. "Everywhere I went, women stopped me and asked what they could do.  American women wanted to help.”

The Council honored both Bush and Clinton for their continued support, both in government and in the private sector.  Some of the council’s programs include training for health workers and midwives and sponsoring scholarships for students to attend the American University of Afghanistan. The organization has also constructed a learning center for disadvantaged children in Bamyan and has established a burn center providing reconstructive surgery.

Afghanistan continues to have one of the highest maternal death rates in the world, and the lowest literacy rates for women worldwide.

Clinton acknowledged that the country still has as long way to go before the majority of its women enjoy basic human rights, but she pointed to the progress made over the last 10 years; life expectancy, school enrollment and infant mortality rates have improved significantly since 2001.

She also promised that as secretary of state, she will work to make sure that any peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban include the protection of women’s rights, which is already a part of the current Afghani constitution.

Any compromise on that issue is a “red line” to the United States and the international community, the secretary said.

“There are always going to be those, not only in Afghanistan, who want to roll back progress for women and impose second-class citizenship on women,” said Clinton. “We will not waver on this point. Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama Honor 10 Female Heroes

Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih of Sudan embraces first lady Michelle Obama as Secretary Hillary Clinton (R) looks on. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When Colombian investigative journalist Jineth Bedoya strode into a Colombian prison 12 years ago, she was on the brink of uncovering an extensive arms smuggling network where paramilitary prison officials were sneaking guns to their gang-affiliated inmates.

The local newspaper reporter was supposed to interview a key paramilitary member that day. Instead she was kidnapped, driven three hours away, bound and repeatedly gang-raped.

“Pay attention,” one of her assailants told her. “We are sending a message to the press in Colombia.”

On Thursday, more than a decade after that horrifying event, Bedoya stood beside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama as a top investigative reporter for one of Colombia’s premier newspapers and an international leader in investigating and prosecuting crimes against women.

America’s top diplomat awarded her and nine other courageous women from some of the most dangerous and hostile countries in the world with the International Women of Courage Award for their fight for women’s equality.

“Whether pushing for change in the halls of government in the Maldives, the courts of Saudi Arabia, whether making sure women have a voice in Libya’s future and a role in Pakistan’s government, whether enduring imprisonment or abuse for trying to assist other women and girls at risk, these women...are all making a difference in the face of adversity often under the threat of violence,” Clinton told a crowd of female activists and dignitaries at the State Department Thursday in the sixth annual awards ceremony to commemorate International Women’s Day.

Other recipients included Maryam Durani, who has survived multiple assassination attempts as she fights for women’s equality in Afghanistan’s most conservative and hostile region of Kandahar Province; Pricilla de Oliviera Azevedo, a major in the Rio de Janeiro military; and Zin Mar Aung, a pro-democracy activist in Burma.

Hana El Hebshi was honored for passing information from Libya to the international media, helping to take down Moammar Gadhafi. Aneesa Ahmed was awarded for fighting for government intervention to prevent female genital mutilation in the Maldives. Shad Begum received the award for helping to empower Pakistani women to vote and run for office.

Award recipient Samar Badawi was the first Saudi Arabian woman to sue for her right to marry the person she chose and her right to vote in municipal elections. Her case prompted a royal decree allowing women to both vote and run for office.

Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih was honored for shining a light on the plight of women in Darfur refugee camps. And Safak Pavey, who lost her hand and leg, received the award for championing the rights of the disabled in Turkey.

“On behalf of my husband and our country I want you to know that you are never, ever alone,” Michelle Obama said at the ceremony. “The United States of America stands with you and we are so incredibly proud of everything you’ve achieved and will continue to fight with you [on] the causes to which you have devoted your lives.”

The 10 women who were honored Thursday flew in from their home countries for the ceremony and will visit 10 cities across the U.S. to spread their message of “justice, peace and freedom,” as award winner Zin Ma Aung said.

Aung, once a student activist, was jailed for 11 years for trying to promote democracy in Burma. She was honored Thursday for teaching and empowering civil rights activists and founding a non-profit to raise awareness of the plight of women in conflict areas.

The emotional ceremony was punctuated by enthusiastic applause and standing ovations.

But the most fervent and sustained uproar of support from the packed crowd came after Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee touched on women’s reproductive rights, a topic that has ignited fierce debate over women’s access to contraception on the floor of Congress and in the campaign rallies of the GOP primary.

“No woman should sit down and allow a man to speak about her reproductive rights,” Gbowee said to raucous applause. “Over time the woman’s movement of this world has mellowed. Our issues and our conversation have become issues of men. I get angry when I think about it.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Women Concerned Over New Code of Conduct in Afghanistan

Abid Katib/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- As the world recognizes International Women's Day, women in Afghanistan are concerned about a new set of rules issued by Muslim clerics that could backtrack the progress of women's rights in the country.

The code of conduct grants husbands permission to beat their wives under certain circumstances.  It also promotes segregation among genders by prohibiting women to be seen in public without a man.

Introduced last week, the guidelines received Afghan President Hamid Karzai's backing on Tuesday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rights Groups Say Egyptian Government Is Targeting Females 

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Egyptian army and security forces are targeting female protesters, subjecting them to violence, torture, sexual assault and threats of rape in line with pre-revolution practices, according to international and Egyptian human rights organizations. 

"Nothing has changed over all. Law enforcement officers still feel that they are above the law and that they don't have to fear prosecution, it's a green light that legitimizes an excessive use of force, sexual assault and torture," said Heba Morayef, Egypt Researcher for Human Rights Watch.

In January, Egypt's military establishment seemed to be protecting the demonstrators, male and female, who flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square and toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Now that the military runs Egypt via the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), critics say it has resorted to the same brutality once used by the Mubarak government against female demonstrators, most notably during street protests against the regime between 2005 and 2007.

On Sunday, Egyptian soldiers were caught on video beating and disrobing a veiled female protester. At least three soldiers are seen on tape exposing the young woman's midriff and bra under the black robe she wears as part of her religious veil, kicking her, stomping on her stomach and hitting her head with batons. The video appeared on television around the world and went viral on social media and the internet, sparking outrage, and even a comment from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who condemned the "systematic degradation" of Egyptian women.

The day after the beating of the veiled protesters, thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets in the largest all-female protest since Egypt's independence, demanding the end of military rule.

Via Facebook, the Egyptian government issued an apology for the beating and for the treatment of female demonstrators, expressing "its great regret to the great women of Egypt for the violations that took place," and vowing that "all legal measures have been taken to hold accountable all those responsible for these violations." But Morayef expressed skepticism about real change in the treatment of women by security forces, noting that the apology did not include explicit orders banning violence and sexual assault on female protesters.

Human rights activists believe there is a purpose behind the Egyptian security forces' use of violence against women. In Egypt's conservative, male-dominated society, women are not supposed to express themselves so openly in public. The violence, according to critics, serves as punishment not just for defying authority, but for violating the rules for women, and is meant to deter other women from joining the protests.

"Female activists still have the double burden of being a female who is protesting," explains Mozn Hassan, a women's rights activist and director of a Egyptian feminist organization.

Blatant physical harassment has long been a fact of daily life for women on Cairo's streets. During the early days of the Tahrir Square uprising, however, women who joined in the protests found that they enjoyed a new freedom and safety. Tahrir became an unusual "safe space" for women protesters during the 18-day revolution. Women still comprised only a small fraction of the protesters in Tahrir Square, but they were much more visible than they had been during the years of low-level resistance to Mubarak.

After Mubarak was toppled, however, the "safe space" evaporated. Many instances of violence and sexual assault on women have been reported since, none of which have yet been prosecuted, according to HRW.

Women who have publicly reported their assaults at the hands of the military since the revolution have been doubted, shamed and accused of being prostitutes. Many keep silent because the Egyptian public still holds the military in high regard, say activists. "Women are terrified to file complaints because the military remains a red line in Egyptian society," said Morayef.

Soldiers reportedly performed "virginity tests" on seven women they detained in March during a protest on International Women's Day. The military announced on Tuesday, nine months after the incident, that the incident had been referred to the High Military Court and is at the trial stage. The lawyer for one of the victims told HRW that he was not given any information about the trial when he inquired Thursday morning.

In November Egypt's riot police, under the military's command, arrested several female journalists and protesters and "sexually assaulted and beat at least two of them," according to HRW. One of the detained was Mona Al Tahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist who described her assault on Egyptian television. "They groped my breasts […] I was pulling so many hands out of my pants, screaming, 'Stop!' I was the only woman there, surrounded by men."

After the incident, an Egyptian army colonel was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "What did she expect would happen?"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Egypt's Military Council Apologizes to Women Following Violence

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- A few days after video of a woman being stripped and beaten by the government military in Egypt hit the Internet, women took to the streets in protest, and now, the ruling military council has issued an apology.

On Tuesday, thousands of Egyptian women turned out in Cairo -- in what could possibly be the largest women's protest ever in the country -- to rally against the military's treatment of women during recent violence.  The demonstration came on the heels of several days of intense and bloody clashes.

One image of the violent crackdown has highlighted the brutality and has drawn global condemnation -- that of a veiled Muslim woman stripped bare as a soldier stomped on her chest.

In a rare move, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a statement Wednesday, saying: "The Supreme Council express its great regret to the great women of Egypt for the violations that took place during the recent events, in the demonstrations that took place at the parliament and the ministers' council, and reassure its respect and appreciation for Egyptian women and their right in protesting and their active positive participation in the political life."

The ruling military council added that, "all legal measures have been taken to hold accountable all those responsible for these violations."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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