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Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Rights

Women in Saudi.

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Readers might remember the case of Manal al-Sherif, a young Saudi woman arrested for driving in Saudi Arabia?

Well, more women are fighting back against petty restrictions and the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, France 24 reports:

“Several Saudi women got behind the wheel on Friday in a “Suffragette-level” protest against rules that ban them from driving cars in the conservative, male-dominated country.

A Facebook campaign page titled “Women2Drive”, as well as the reactions from thousands of Twitter users, have helped push this small act of civil disobedience onto the international stage.

The campaign was inspired by the arrest last month of 32-year-old Manal al-Sherif, who posted a video of herself driving on YouTube.

On Friday there were reports of “several” women driving. But in an ultraconservative country where such behaviour is virtually unknown, it was still a significant act of defiance – even if all the reports were of women driving with a male relative. Saudi women are required by law to be accompanied by a male relative when they venture out.

Microblogging site Twitter was flooded with messages of support on Friday and triumphant comments on those staging these acts of defiance.

Times of London columnist Janice Turner tweeted: “Today, women in Saudi will challenge the driving ban, risking arrest, loss of jobs & children. This [is] Suffragette-level bravery.”

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtan, a Saudi rights activist, said he had been driven by his wife Maha through the streets of Riyadh.

“My wife, Maha, and I have just come from a 45-minute drive, she was the driver through Riyadh’s streets,” he tweeted, adding later that she “has taken her necessary belongings, ready to go to prison without fear!” “

Update 1: Time covers it too:

“The beginning of the trip was uneventful. I tried to keep my camera discreetly in my lap and shoot the occasional frame, so as to not draw attention to us. We rode through Friday afternoon traffic, attracting some double takes and a few stares, but overall much less reaction than I would have anticipated. Her eyes, all that could be seen from underneath her all-encompassing hijab, darted in and out of the rear view mirror.

We coasted along King Fahd Road in Riyadh. The traffic seemed to grow more dense by the minute. She was nervous and her husband was giving her directions. “Don’t change lanes, slow down, you are going too fast!” he said. Then, turning to me in the back seat, he declared proudly, “She’s a good driver!”

The backseat driving made me smile—so universal between husbands and wives, no matter where in the world you are.

Given the longstanding prohibition against women drivers, I wondered if the police would stop us. I flashed back to the cramped prison cell in Sirte, where I was held by the Libyan government in March along with three male colleagues from the New York Times. There we were splayed out on soiled foam mattresses, a bottle of urine in the corner of the cell, a box of dates on the floor. I was sure the Saudi prison would be cleaner.

I took the discs out of my camera, hid them in my bra, and put the camera back into my backpack. “

Update 2: This is the Facebook page of Women2Drive.

Free Manal al-Sherif.

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The Washington Post reports that Manal al-Sherif was re-arrested after being released recently:

“CAIRO — Saudi authorities have re-arrested an activist who defied a ban on female drivers in the conservative kingdom, a security official said Monday.

Manal al-Sherif was accused of “violating public order” and ordered held for five days while the case is investigated.

The 32-year-old al-Sherif launched a campaign against the longtime ban last week by posting a video clip on the Internet of herself behind the wheel in the eastern city of Khobar.

Through Facebook, the campaigners set June 17 as the day all women should drive their cars. The page, called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” was removed after more than 12,000 people indicated their support for the call. The campaign’s Twitter account also was deactivated.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

Al-Sherif was initially detained for several hours on Saturday by the country’s religious police and released after she signed a pledge agreeing not to drive.

She was re-arrested on Sunday at dawn, said a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “

Update 1: The 17th June 2011 could be an interesting day in Saudi Arabia:

“This law is simply a backward, visceral objection to the thought of a woman behind the wheel, a physical embodiment of a volition which is too offensive to enact. It is about maintaining some semblance of control, the erosion of which it is thought would be complete if women were allowed to drive.

There is this odd view of women in the kingdom as being always on the cusp of dissolute behaviour – reminiscent of an attitude towards slaves who would rebel and murder their owners if not kept perpetually oppressed. This is a ghastly spiral, where the worse the victim is treated, the worse they are likely to be pre-emptively repressed. When arguing against allowing women to uncover their heads or faces in public, some (men and women) respond that if that if this were to pass, women would surely walk around in semi-nudity.

It doesn’t occur to these people that public codes of dress do not exist in most other Arab countries, and women still manage to dress in a culturally appropriate way. Women are allowed to drive throughout the conservative Arabian Gulf, and these societies have not imploded in moral degradation.

The Saudi driving ban is a social, rather than political, issue, over which the authorities would rather not incur the religious establishment’s wrath or create controversy. But if there is one lesson Arab rulers would do well to heed, it is that withholding rights raises the chances of an explosion of dissent.

The arrest of Sharif certainly appears to have done nothing to dissuade the Women2Drive campaign from going ahead; if anything it seems to have garnered it more publicity. There are reports that the religious police are teaming up with traffic forces to patrol and stymie the campaign. If these are to be believed, then Saudi Arabia is in for a first-of-its-kind confrontation on 17 June. “

Driving In Saudi Arabia.

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Women in Saudi Arabia can’t even drive their own cars, without a driver or a relative to do that job for them. Many are effectively prisoners in their homes, still some brave women are fighting back:

This is their channel on YouTube, ksawomen2drive.

Update 1: Manal al-Sherif has been detained for driving herself, AP has more:

“RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Authorities detained a Saudi woman on Saturday after she launched a campaign against the driving ban for women in the ultraconservative kingdom and posted a video of herself behind the wheel on Facebook and YouTube to encourage others to copy her.

Manal al-Sherif and a group of other women started a Facebook page called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” which urges authorities to lift the driving ban. She went on a test drive in the eastern city of Khobar and later posted a video of the experience.

“This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country” learn to drive, al-Sherif says in the video. “At least for times of emergency, God forbid. What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?”
Human rights activist Walid Abou el-Kheir said al-Sherif was detained by the country’s religious police, who are charged with ensuring the kingdom’s rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings are observed.

Al-Sherif was released hours later, according to the campaign’s Twitter account. The terms of her release were not immediately clear.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

Women are also barred from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can sit on the kingdom’s Cabinet. Women also cannot travel without permission from a male guardian and shouldn’t mingle with males who are not their husbands or brothers. “

Written by modernityblog

21/05/2011 at 21:42

Compromised.

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Please read Flesh is Grass’s Amnesty International is compromised.

My previous coverage of Gita Sahgal and AI.

Written by modernityblog

12/04/2010 at 19:50

Gita Sahgal On CBC.

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CBC’s The Current had an interview with Gita Sahgal on the 18th Febuary 2010:

“Amnesty Controversy – Sahgal

We started this segment with a clip of Moazzam Begg. He’s the founder of a group called CagePrisoners and a former prisoner himself at the United States Military Prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Since his release from Guantanamo, Moazzam Begg has been a high profile defender of the rights of others who have been imprisoned or detained in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Among other things, he has worked with Amnesty International, one of the most widely respected human rights groups in the world.

And that is when Gita Saghal decided she had to draw a line. She was the head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit until she was suspended from her post last week, after she publicly denounced Amnesty’s decision to work with Moazzam Begg and CagePrisoners. She argued that Moazzam Begg promotes extremist views that are incompatible with the defence of universal human rights and that the Amnesty’s reputation is tarnished by its association with him. Gita Saghal was in London, England.

Amnesty Controversy – Secretary General

For Amnesty International’s view of the situation, we were joined by Claudio Cordone. He is the organization’s interim Secretary General and he was in London, England.”

The MP3 of the programme is here.

Written by modernityblog

20/02/2010 at 02:53

WLUML Statement in Support of Gita Sahgal

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WLUML has issued a statement:

“The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network expresses its solidarity with Gita Sahgal, a longstanding ally of the network who is active in various organisations, collectives, and movements committed to upholding universal human rights. As a feminist, anti-racist activist, filmmaker and researcher, Sahgal has devoted her career to exposing systematic discrimination and rights violations by state and non-state actors in Britain, South Asia and internationally. Much of this work has included rigorous research into transnational fundamentalist movements, and their intersections with human rights, especially those of women. In addition, Gita Sahgal is the Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International (AI).

WLUML has learned that she has repeatedly, and to no avail, raised internal inquiries into Amnesty International’s association with the organisation Cageprisoners, headed by Moazzam Begg, around the Counter Terror with Justice Campaign. British citizen Moazzam Begg was abducted in 2002 by American and Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan, to where he had fled from Afghanistan with his family soon after the US-led ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ bombing of the country began in retaliation for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Begg was held first in Bagram detention facility and Kandahar, then detained in Guantánamo until he was released by the United States in 2005. Begg has never been charged with any terrorist-related offence or put on trial. In a book about his experiences, Enemy Combatant, co-authored with Victoria Brittain, he states that in 2001 he believed “the Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years” and he is one of the current advocates of dialogue with the Taliban. Cageprisoners campaigns “to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror”. Amnesty International’s Counter Terror with Justice Campaign calls for an end to human rights abuses at Guantánamo and other locations, and for those detained there to be brought to justice, in fair trials that respect due process. Gita Sahgal’s concern about a lack of transparency in AI’s partnerships led to Sahgal’s decision to approach the Sunday Times newspaper media about this issue. This resulted in an article by Richard Kerbaj published on 7 February 2010, entitled “Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link: An official at the human rights charity deplores its work with a ‘jihadist’” in which Kerbaj reports Sahgal’s suggestions that the charity has mistakenly allied itself with Begg and his “jihadi” group. The same day, Sahgal was suspended from her position as Head of the Gender Unit.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by modernityblog

18/02/2010 at 02:46

Southall Black Sisters Respond.

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Southall Black Sisters responds to Amnesty International’s suspension of Gita Sahgal following her criticism of the organisation for its close association with Moazaam Begg:

“We are gravely concerned at the way in which Amnesty International has sought to address Gita Sahgal’s criticism of its close collaboration with the likes of Moazzam Begg. Clearly, it must be right for the Head of its Gender Unit to interrogate Amnesty International as to who it chooses to associate with without fear of being sacked?

We admire and respect the work of Amnesty International to get women’s human rights on the agenda and we support Amnesty International’s campaign to highlight the plight of those who have been tortured, detained without trial and denied due process. However we believe that Amnesty International’s stance is being rightly questioned by organisations like ours who struggle to ensure that the debate on the War on Terror and religious fundamentalism is not reduced to the logic of ‘either you are with us or you are against us’. We have sought to avoid such dead ends which fail to illuminate how and why human rights violations are perpetrated either by States such as the US, UK and Israel or by all religious fundamentalist movements that are on the rise around the world. As women’s organisations, we have fought against considerable odds, to ensure that women’s human rights and those of other marginalised groups and minorities around the world are universally accepted and addressed as such, especially in the face of violence and persecution by non-state actors, including all religious right wing forces who masquerade as anti-imperialist, development, human rights and anti-racist movements.

Failing to acknowledge concerns that Gita Sahgal and others have raised about those who sympathise with or have close connections with anti-democratic religious right forces in all religions including the Taliban, signals the view that Amnesty International is not concerned about the rights of women and sexual minorities or freedom of expression.

Amnesty International’s attempt to equate Gita Sahgal’s legitimate concerns with the demonisation of Guantanamo inmates as the ‘other’ by the neoconservatives and their allies in the West, in our view, amounts to a denial and abrogation of internal and external accountability. What we need is a proper debate, not a closing down of debate of these important issues.

When so called victims of the War on Terror advocate ‘engagement’ with combatants – perhaps necessary to achieve peace – why are they not challenged on the authoritarian social and political agenda that they support? We know from experience around the world, including post war Iraq that women’s rights are the first to be traded in such political settlements!

If human rights are universal and indivisible – a view which we believe we share with Amnesty International – then it becomes all the more incumbent upon us all to double check who we take on as our partners. If, like us, Amnesty International accepts that the question should not be about whether some are more deserving of human rights than others, then it needs to urgently review its collaboration with those who sympathise with all religious fundamentalist forces however difficult this may be. The time has come for all liberals working within the human rights arena to engage their critical faculties, not suspend or leave them behind for fear of being labelled Islamaphobic, anti-semitic or racist. There is another way of looking at human rights – one which does not trade women’s rights or those of other vulnerable minorities for either the right to security or for the right to manifest religious identity.

Women Against Fundamentalism and Southall Black Sisters”

[My emphasis].

Written by modernityblog

12/02/2010 at 03:31

Keeping Up With Gita Sahgal And Amnesty International.

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When an event like this occurs it is often difficult to keep track of whose covering it and what are they saying.

Gita Sahgal has been incredibly brave, putting her own job on the line, how many people, in reality, would do that? Too few. Amnesty International’s despicable treatment of her and the wider implications need highlighting.

Thankfully there is a web site which is keeping track of these events, the media coverage and comments.

Please do visit Human Rights For All.

Update 1: The Women Against Fundamentalism site is here.

Update 2: Variant magazine’s interview with Gita Sahgal in 2002 can be found here.

Update 3: Rahila Gupta has a good piece in the Guardian:

“Within hours of the article appearing she was suspended from her job by Amnesty for, as Gita says in her statement, “trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially”. And for some hours yesterday, negative posts on Amnesty’s website were being filtered out.

We welcome whistleblowers when they expose wrongdoing in government or the corporate sector. This is not, technically, a case of whistleblowing because none of these activities were hidden – it was a failure to join the dots on the part of Amnesty about which a senior member of staff went public on principle.

Why should the third sector be immune from internal critics? It is a significant player in Britain: more people work in this sector than in banking, it influences the direction of government policy and public opinion, and consequently it should be held accountable like any other organisation. These debates need to be had in public rather than behind closed doors. Amnesty’s attempt to shut down the debate by using the same tactics as their opponents is shameful.”

Update 4: I forget if I gave this out before, but a reminder doesn’t hurt, the Facebook group Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal has, of 3 minutes ago, some 716 members.

Update 5: BBC World Service Radio : Newshour speaks to Gita Sahgal.

Update 6: Flesh is Grass has a good post with details of Ms. Sahgal on Radio 4.

Update 7: The Facebook group (see update 4) now has 823 members.

Written by modernityblog

09/02/2010 at 13:57