International

Al-Qaida has confirmed the death of its leader, Osama bin Laden, and vowed veangance, pledging in a statement posted on militant websites that his blood "will not be wasted". In what is apparently the first official reaction from the militant Isamist group since Bin Laden was gunned down by US special forces troops who raided his hideout in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, the group called on the people of Pakistan, "where Sheik Osama was killed", to rise up against their leaders. The group would soon release an audio message from Bin Laden recorded a week before his death, said the statement, dated 3 May and signed by "the general leadership of al-Qaida". There was no independent confirmation that the message was authentic but it was posted on websites through which al-Qaida habitually issues statements.

The EWIC Scholars’ Database is an invaluable listing of scholars from all over the world and from all disciplines whose work focuses on women, gender, and Islamic cultures. Based on the authors’ database for the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, this free online publication is a fully searchable directory of connecting scholars, students, policymakers, and activists with each other and with NGOs, governmental agencies, research foundations, publishers, members of the media, and potential employers seeking researchers whose work specifically covers issues on women and gender related to Islamic cultures. The online database, funded by a grant from the International Development Research Center (Ottawa), is published at http://sjoseph.ucdavis.edu/ewic.

The preconceived notions about the working conditions of NGOs in general and feminist organisations in particular would seem to apply in this case. Behind a website crammed with a wealth of high-quality information in seven languages, successful campaigns, projects, and calls for solidarity, a lot of hard work is being done in backstreet offices. The international co-ordination office (ICO) of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML, www.wluml.org) is situated in North London. Here, in a roughly thirty square metre corner of an old factory, five women and a handful of unpaid volunteers work, network, raise funds, publish, debate, and co-ordinate the work of a global network. The diversity of the team – which comprises women from Pakistan, Italy, Sweden, Nigeria, and England as well as people of Christian, Muslim and atheist orientations – is in itself a reflection of what WLUML is all about, namely bringing a diverse range of women with their different life experiences together, across national borders, questioning and overcoming existing gender orders together, and demanding gender justice. Women Living Under Muslim Laws is a name that invokes a variety of associations. However, behind these five carefully chosen words is a clear message.

Last month in Kuala Lumpur I met the Malaysian politician Nurul Izzah Anwar. Just 30 years old, and formidably well-educated, Nurul Izzah is an MP as well as the mother of two children. Thrown into the political fray by the persecution of her father – Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's former deputy prime minister – Nurul Izzah has risen rapidly within the opposition People's Justice party. Admiring glances and whispers from other diners bounced off our table at a fusion restaurant in the smart suburb of Damansara Heights as she spoke frankly and persuasively about Malaysia's frustratingly racial politics, its restless youth population, the changing role of Islam, and the country's foreign relations. Towards the end of our conversation, she said: "You haven't asked me the big question." Puzzled, I asked: "About what?" Laughing, she replied: "Many western journalists only want to know why I wear a headscarf."

On the occasion of the International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders on November 29 and the 10th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) critically reflects on Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women, the theme of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence for 2010. The experience of discrimination, intimidation and attack of women human rights defenders lies at the intersection of their gender identity and their position as dissenters in their societies, particularly when working on women’s or sexual rights.  

International human rights law is not a sufficient basis for responding to religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalisms are about power as well as prejudice, Vijay Nagaraj tells Cassandra Balchin.

On November 9, 2010, the 2nd international “One Day One Struggle” Campaign to promote sexual and bodily rights in Muslim societies will take place in 12 countries across Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia. With diverse, groundbreaking actions and events, almost 50 participating Human Rights organizations, Universities and Municipalities will simultaneously call for public attention to issues like Right to Information, Sexuality Education, Sexual Health, Bodily Autonomy and Sexual Rights of Individuals, LGBTTQ Rights, Sexual Diversity and Islam, Sexuality and Shari’a as well as the struggle to stop sexual rights violations ranging from Polygamy to killings of women, gay people and transsexuals. 

This is an exclusive excerpt from the paper Ziba Mir-Hosseini gave at the October 2010 Islamic Feminism Conference in Madrid: "As the term ‘Islamic feminism’ gained currency in the late 1990s, most of those so labelled by academics and journalists rejected either the ‘Islamic’ or the ‘feminist’ part of the term. If they came from a religious background and addressed women’s rights within an Islamic frame of reference, they wanted to avoid any kind of association with the term ‘feminism’, and their gender activism was a mixture of conformity and defiance. If they came from a secular background and addressed women’s rights from within broader feminist discourses, they rejected being called ‘Islamic’—even though many of them located their feminism in Islam. Those associated with political Islam took contradictory positions and made confusing statements with respect to gender equality; for them, the wider project of gaining power and establishing an Islamic state took priority over equality and democracy. 

On Monday 4 October 2010 OHCHR organised a seminar on 'Traditional Values and Human Rights'. The seminar was the outcome of a controversial resolution presented by the Russian Federation and adopted last year at the Human Rights Council's September session (Resolution 12/21 on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind in conformity with international human rights law). The stated purpose of the seminar was to discuss how traditional values can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. It was organised as a series of panel discussions with experts, primarily from an academic background. Regrettably, no civil society speakers were included as panellists. However, a number of NGO representatives were able to speak from the floor. While the seminar was well-attended by States, very few took part in the debate (only Belgium, the Netherlands, the USA, Ireland, Cuba, China, and Egypt spoke).

A glance at any day's headlines makes it clear that cultures and religions worldwide are and have always been in constant flux. A day-long Women's Learning Partnership (WLP) symposium on September 21 in Washington DC sparked debate, laughter, and cheers as participants vowed new commitment to steering that change toward broader human rights for women.

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