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About 24 Jordanian women die every year in honour killings

Jordanian women fight 'honour killings' Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 23:32 GMT
By Caroline Hawley in Amman

Women activists in Jordan have expressed disappointment with a court verdict sentencing a man to just six months for killing his daughter for having sex before marriage.

Jordanian women activists have been campaigning for years to have honour killings de-legitimised.

Last month they won a small victory when the government cancelled an exemption from the death penalty for men who kill female relatives found committing adultery.

There are about 24 such murders in Jordan each year.

The new legal changes make it possible for women to divorce if they repay the dowry given by their husband.

They also require men who marry more than once, as Islam allows, to inform both their first and their new wives.

Women activists have welcomed these amendments but they say the legal changes on honour crimes do not go nearly far enough, because a man can still get a reduced sentence for acting in anger.

'No deterrent'

That is what has happened in the latest case.

The man, from a conservative rural area, is reported to have killed his daughter with an implement similar to a meat cleaver when he found out she had had sex before marriage.

Women activists say his six-month sentence offers no real deterrent to men who kill in the name of honour.

They plan to lobby the next parliament for a minimum five year sentence for honour crimes.

But they are already expecting to meet stiff resistance with many conservative MPs known to oppose their aims.

Women have no political rights in Saudi Arabia

Saudi women advise on marriage crisis Monday, 31 December, 2001, 15:54 GMT

A Saudi Arabian all-male advisory council has taken the rare step of inviting women to discuss the spiralling cost of marriage dowries.

It comes amid concerns that money demanded by the parents of prospective brides are prohibitively high, leaving many Saudi couples unable to get married.

Reports say there are as many as 1.5 million spinsters out of a population of 22 million.

The dowries - a traditional Arabic custom - have soared to as much as 200,000 riyals ($50,000), which many young men cannot afford.

Despite its reputation as an oil-rich kingdom, unemployment is as high as 30% and poverty is rising.

Now the Saudi Consultative Council - which was established by King Fahd as part of a package of reforms after the Gulf War - has asked 50 female academics to debate the problem.

The council has no legislative powers but can make recommendations to the government.

The involvement of women in such a forum is an unusual move for the ultra-conservative state, where women have no official political, or even advisory, power.

However, in accordance with sharia - religious law - the female academics will not be allowed to sit in the same chamber as the men but will take part in discussions via closed-circuit television.

Government help

Saudi Arabia is not the only country in its region to suffer from this problem.

In the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, the government has established a fund to help young men of limited means with wedding and dowry costs.

It also organises collective weddings for couples who cannot afford their own receptions.

The Mecca city governor visited the fire-damaged school

Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue Friday, 15 March, 2002, 12:19 GMT

Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.

In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday.

About 800 pupils were inside the school in the holy city of Mecca when the tragedy occurred.

According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.

One witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".

The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".

The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.

"Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," the newspaper concluded.

Relatives' anger

Families of the victims have been incensed over the deaths.

Most of the victims were crushed in a stampede as they tried to flee the blaze.

The school was locked at the time of the fire - a usual practice to ensure full segregation of the sexes.

The religious police are widely feared in Saudi Arabia. They roam the streets enforcing dress codes and sex segregation, and ensuring prayers are performed on time.

Those who refuse to obey their orders are often beaten and sometimes put in jail.

Bangladesh protest against acid attacks Friday, 8 March, 2002, 14:23 GMT
Acid attacks are linked to a breakdown in law and order

By Alastair Lawson BBC correspondent in Dhaka

International Women's Day has been celebrated differently in Bangladesh.

Thousands of protesters, most of them men, turned out for a men-led march in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday to protest against acid attacks on women.

They are concerned that there has been a 50% increase in such attacks in 2001 compared to 2000.

Latest figures released by the Acid Survivors' Foundation, a prominent NGO which helps rehabilitate victims, show that there were 338 attacks carried out across Bangladesh last year.

The march was attended by numerous prominent male politicians from across the political spectrum.

Well-known celebrities and academics also took part.


Organisers say the event is unique in Asia and shows that Bangladesh is prepared to acknowledge the problem and takes active measure to combat it.

Acid attacks on women are carried out across Asia, with reports of such incidents from Burma, Cambodia, India and Pakistan.

"The reasons for the escalation in the number of acid attacks is linked to the general breakdown of law and order in Bangladesh," says Dr John Morrison, executive director of the Acid Survivors' Foundation.

"But at least the new government elected last year seems to be determined to do something about the problem. It has introduced laws in parliament that will make some acid attacks a capital offence, and has set up special courts which must prosecute all suspected acid throwers within 90 days of charges being framed.

"It has also introduced new laws to restrict the sale of acid," he says.

Public outrage

Organisers of the demonstration said that it was being held to show to the outside world that Bangladesh is a peaceful country where the vast majority of people are prepared to speak out against the horrific disfigurements caused by acid attacks.

Most of the victims - around 80% of whom are women - have had sulphuric or hydrochloric acid thrown in their faces.

The Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, says that such attacks blacken the name of her country.

She says that she is determined to improve the rights of women, but critics say that her four-party coalition contains two hardline Islamic parties who are not renowned for their promotion of women's rights.

Bangladesh - with a population of 130 million people - is a conservative Muslim country where many people have traditionally regarded women as subservient to men.

Weapon of choice

The vast majority of acid attacks are carried out on women by jilted husbands or boyfriends. Some are angry that their advances have been rejected; in other cases it can be because of a domestic row such as a dispute over a dowry payment.

Experts say there is also evidence to suggest that more men and children are being attacked, too, and that acid may in some cases be replacing guns and knives as an instrument of attack.

"It's difficult to tell what it is that goes through the mind of someone who throws skin-burning acid over another human being," said Dr Ron Hiles, a British plastic surgeon who recently travelled to Bangladesh to treat acid attack survivors.

"There are all sorts of motivations, one of the prime ones being jealousy.

"But I don't think people realise before they carry out the attack quite what horrific injuries they will cause."

Bangladesh cracks down on acid attacks Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 02:20 GMT
Women are attacked with acid over marital disputes The Bangladeshi Government has approved tough new laws to curb a rise in acid attacks on women.

Alleged attackers will be tried by special tribunals and will face a maximum penalty of death.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia described the attacks as a disgrace and promised to take firm steps against perpetrators following her election last October.

Figures released by the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) in Bangladesh earlier this year showed there had been a 50% increase in attacks last year compared to the year before.

Most of the attacks are carried out against young women who have rejected arranged marriages, although in some cases children and men have been attacked too.

Child victims

In 2001, 340 men and women were attacked with acid, according to the ASF.

Munira Rahman from the ASF said a two-month-old baby was hurt in an acid attack on its mother in January this year.

Attacks have been carried out with sulphuric or hydrochloric acid bought in shops or with acid taken from batteries.

Under the current law, shopkeepers selling acid are obliged to enquire about its intended use, and the new measures will further tighten restrictions on its purchase.

Acid attacks leave victims badly scarred and feeling suicidal and, in some cases, have even resulted in death.

"Because of their defaced faces neither their families or anyone else will accept them and unless their rehabilitation is ensured, what life will they have after surgery?" said Bangladeshi plastic surgeon S L Sen, from Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

The new law will also include guidelines for police on how to treat the victims of acid attacks.

Muslim stereotypes denounced in Spain Monday, 4 March, 2002, 03:13 GMT

Veiling is not a central preoccupation for Muslim women

By the BBC's Flora Botsford in Cordoba, Spain

A world conference on women and Islam has ended in the Spanish city of Cordoba with calls for western society to change its negative image of the Muslim religion.

Delegates said that Islam's image had worsened since 11 September and the US-led war on terrorism but that much of the criticism stemmed from misconceptions.

Earlier, security guards removed a group of Muslim delegates who gathered to pray in the city's former mosque - now a Catholic cathedral.

The conference's final statement was a summary of all the topics the speakers had touched on during two days of meetings in Cordoba, the historic capital of the western Islamic empire.

More than 200 delegates heard that Muslim women faced many difficulties, whether they were immigrants living in a western society or recent converts, mainly because of a high level of ignorance of Islamic customs.

The conference concluded that it was up to western societies to change their views of Islam and to counteract negative images of Islam in the media.

Violence condemned

Delegates said they were tired of being portrayed as timid and downtrodden.

They said the decision to wear a veil or headscarf was often portrayed as their central preoccupation when in reality there were many other subjects of concern to them.

There was strong condemnation of domestic violence and of female genital mutilation and a call for women to fight discrimination in work, pay, health and education, regardless of race or religion.

Controversy came when a group of about 20 delegates, men and women, insisted on praying inside Cordoba's Great Mosque, which was converted to a Catholic cathedral in the 13th century.

As they bowed to Mecca, security guards moved in to break up the gathering, saying it was forbidden for Muslims to pray within the property of the Catholic Church.

Worshippers said they wanted to reclaim a part of their history.

Emotional moment

Some said it had been 500 years since such an event had taken place in the Cordoba mosque.

While that may not be true, it was clearly an emotional moment, leaving some of the participants in tears.

Yusuf Fernandez, of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Groups, said it was part of an ongoing campaign to change the status of the former mosque.

Spain is coming to terms with the relatively new phenomenon of large-scale Muslim immigration and many speakers in Cordoba said it was all too common for Spaniards to confuse integration with the need to adopt Spanish customs.