Over 350 Muslim women from 47 countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week to launch a global campaign for equality, the BBC reported Feb. 18, placing reforms to family laws in Muslim nations around the world at the heart of their agenda. The women have started a new organization called Musawah, which means “equality” in Arabic, to push their cause forward.
“I believe that Islam has given women equal rights and equal faith,” Saudi women’s rights activist Hatoon Alfassi told the BBC, adding that it is appropriate to criticize and challenge authorities who restrict women. The application of Islamic family law varies across nations, but may deny women the freedom to marry the partner of their choice or to travel or receive an education without permission of a male guardian.
The conference, organized by the Malaysian group Sisters in Islam, was held in the same week as the appointment of the first women to a government ministerial post in Saudi Arabia, Agence France-Presse reported Feb. 15. Norah al-Fayez was appointed as deputy education minister for women’s education in a government shake-up orchestrated by King Abdullah. In Saudi Arabia, men and women cannot attend classes together because of strict customs that separate the sexes. “We’ve always suffered from having a man occupy the position,” al-Fayez told the Arab News.
More News to Cheer This Week:
- Women will fill one-quarter of the 444 seats in Iraq’s provincial councils following the certification of results from the Jan. 31 elections on Thursday, the Associated Press reported. The seats were set aside in a quota and about 3,900 women across Iraq were candidates in the elections that expanded the political clout of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Sunni factions. Women may struggle to earn the respect of male peers on the councils. “Let this be an experiment for us,” said Sabah al-Tememy, who refused to cover her head during the campaign. “People in Iraq just need to get used to seeing women as leaders.”
- The passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act may bolster a bias case being reviewed by the Supreme Court that was filed by four women who used to work for AT and T, Business Week reported Feb. 12. The women claim they were discriminated against because AT and T did not allow them to accrue retirement benefits while they were on maternity leave; it wasn’t until 1979 that federal law required companies to do so. The Ledbetter Act defines current discriminatory pay as a “new, unlawful employment practice.” The Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the case.
- Coretta Scott King, the widow of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., will be inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame, the Associated Press reported Feb. 16. Coretta Scott King died in January 2006 and was selected as soon as she was eligible.
- The United Kingdom has granted political asylum to Pegah Emambakhsh, the Telegraph reported Feb. 16. Emambakhsh fled Iran in 2005 after her lesbian partner was sentenced to death by stoning and was granted refugee status on an appeal. The status of her partner could not be determined.
- Lindsay Van, of Park City, Utah, is the first female world ski jumping champion after winning the Nordic Ski World Championship held in the Czech Republic Feb. 20, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Women’s ski jumping was not allowed as an official event for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Athletes hope that by holding a world championship event they can build enough momentum for the sport to be included in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
During a Queens murder trial this week, several jurors covered their mouths in shock as they watched a 52-minute video in which toddler Michelle Malakov screamed and howled as her mother prepared to hand her over to her father after a judge awarded him custody, the New York Times reported Feb. 18.
During a bitter custody dispute, the child’s mother, Mazoltuv Borukhova, had accused the father, Daniel Malakov, of physical abuse. She is now on trial, accused of persuading a relative to murder her ex-husband, who was shot on a playground in October 2007, a few days after he gained custody in a court hearing in which neither the mother nor her attorney was present.
During the murder trial, Justice Sidney F. Strauss’ order was unsealed, showing how he concluded that supervised visits with the father had been intended to provide “quality time” with the child without the “overbearing” and “smothering” presence of the mother. The child’s court-appointed legal guardian testified that he was surprised by the judge’s transfer of custody because he had only recommended that the visits be unsupervised.
Family court activists have sharply criticized custody transfers in hearings without both parents present and report it is common, despite the practice being widely considered improper.
“We’re not talking about a handful; we’re not talking about dozens,” Mo Therese Hannah, a psychology professor at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., told Women’s eNews in January 2008. “We’re probably talking about thousands of cases.”
More News to Jeer This Week:
- A Russian jury acquitted three men on charges of slaying journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, the Moscow Times reported Feb. 19. Politkovskaya was executed outside her home and her supporters believe it was a retaliatory act for her work documenting human rights abuses during the Chechen war. Defense lawyers routinely complain that Russian prosecutors craft shoddy legal cases in order to prevent the conviction of suspects and Politkovskaya’s family also questioned the soundness of the case presented against her alleged killers.
- Forty-two percent of pregnant women in Swaziland are HIV-positive, according to government statistics released Feb. 20, the Associated Press reported. The new statistics reflect an increase of three percentage points in the past year. Less than one-sixth of HIV-positive Swazi people receive antiretroviral drugs to manage the infection.
- The North Dakota State House voted 51-41 to ban abortion and define life as beginning at conception, RH Reality Check reported Feb. 19. The measure proceeds to the state Senate for consideration and caught pro-choice activists by surprise. In addition to prohibiting abortion, the measure–if it becomes law–could also make illegal some forms of birth control, including emergency contraception.
- College athletic departments earned a B grade for gender in the 2008 report card issued by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. That’s down a notch from last year’s B-plus; the report card reviews colleges for how diverse their athletic staffs are. On race, colleges earned an overall C-plus. “The numbers reflect a need for new strategies for more opportunities for people of color and women. This is the worst report card for college sport in many years,” said study author Richard Lapchick.
- In Topeka, Kan., library patrons under 18 will be shielded from four books that a group called Kansans for Common Sense Policy finds offensive: “Sex for Busy People,” “The Lesbian Kama Sutra,” “The Joy of Sex” and “The Joy of Gay Sex.” The books will be removed from open shelves and access restricted in the future, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported Feb. 20. Since the news came out, the library has had several requests for the books in question.
- The economic slump and a decline in new jobs in China is pushing thousands of displaced professional women into work as nannies and housekeepers, the Associated Press reported Feb. 19. One domestic employment agency in Guangzhou reported that, since August, 90 percent of its applicants for maids’ positions have college degrees.
- Headline from Canada’s National Post on Feb. 19: “Obama arrives. He waves. Canadian women are never the same.”
Jennifer Thurston is managing editor of Women’s eNews.
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