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TANZANIA: Australian women’s rights activist faces charges

Supporters says charges against Zara Kay, who has had her passport confiscated, are ‘politically motivated’.


By Daniel Hurst


The Guardian (03.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/393rFK8 – An Australian ex-Muslim women’s rights activist faces “politically motivated” charges in Tanzania, including for a tweet allegedly critical of the country’s president, according to her supporters.


The Australian government is providing consular assistance to Zara Kay, 28, the founder of Faithless Hijabi, a group set up two years ago to support women who are ostracised or face violence if they leave or question Islam.


Kay tweeted on 28 December she was “going into the police station because someone reported me in for blasphemy” and a few days later told her supporters she was out on bail but “still quite traumatised from everything”.


“Please don’t stop fighting for me,” she wrote. “They can try shaking me, but they won’t break me.”


The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Sunday it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Tanzania”. But a spokesperson said Dfat would not provide further comment “owing to our privacy obligations”.


The case was first reported by the ABC on Sunday.


The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims issued a statement saying Kay had been held in police custody for 32 hours from 28 December “without an initial clear indication of charges” and had her passport confiscated.


It said she would be required to return the police station in Dar es Salaam, the administrative capital, on Tuesday.


According to the statement, the charges relate to three issues, including “a social media post deemed to be critical of the president of Tanzania” over the handling of Covid-19 in the east African country.


The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims said Kay was also accused of not returning her Tanzanian passport after gaining Australian citizenship, but added that “she never returned her Tanzanian passport as she misplaced and never used it after gaining Australian citizenship”.


The coalition said the final issue was the use of a mobile sim card registered in a family member’s name rather than her own name, under legislation that the group said “has been used to persecute other high-profile cases”.


“We believe these charges are politically motivated,” the coalition said.


“The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims reiterates its call on the Tanzanian government to immediately drop all the charges against Zara Kay and allow her to leave the country … We also call on the Australian authorities to intervene and get Zara home to safety.”


Kay, who was raised a Shia Muslim in Tanzania, told the Australian newspaper in 2019 that she had been forced to wear the hijab from the age of eight but took it off when she moved to Australia to study in her late teens.


She has renounced Islam and campaigns to help people who struggle when they similarly leave the faith. Kay has held speaking events in Australia on the topic: “Losing your religion can be hard, and for some, it can be fatal”.


Christians comprise about 61% of Tanzania’s population of 59 million people, while Muslims represent about 35%, according to past estimates, and it does not have blasphemy laws. The Australian newspaper reports that Kay faces sedition charges.


It is understood the types of assistance provided by Australian consular staff can include visiting prisons to monitor welfare, checking with local authorities about the Australian’s wellbeing, and providing contact details for local lawyers.


But consular staff typically notify Australians in trouble overseas that they cannot provide direct legal advice, intervene in legal cases or get Australians out of prison.

Photo: Dfat is giving consular assistance to Zara Kay, an Australian women’s rights activist in Tanzania. Her supporters say she is facing three charges, including one relating to a social media post allegedly critical of the president. Credit: CEMB.

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SAUDI ARABIA begins trial of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul

Closed trial in ‘terrorism court’ starts more than two years after her imprisonment for peaceful activism.


By Emma Graham-Harrison


The Guardian (10.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3oSfbLv – Saudi Arabia has put a women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, on trial in a special court set up to handle terrorism cases, more than two years after she was detained over her peaceful activism.


She is accused, along with several other campaigners, of activities that “undermine the kingdom’s security, stability and national unity,” according to the state news agency. The trial began on International Human Rights Day, an irony noted by her family and campaigners.


“Guess what Saudi Arabia does on International Human Rights Day? It sends brave & peaceful activists like Loujain al-Hathloul to their first trial at the ‘terrorism court’, simply for wanting basic human rights,” Amnesty International said on Twitter.


The group has described the specialised criminal court (SCC) where her case is being held as an “instrument of repression”. Its judges have presided over unfair trials and handed down harsh rulings including multiple death sentences “in an effort to silence dissent”, Amnesty said.


Wednesday’s court hearing was not open to the public. It was not clear how long the trial would last or whether other female activists detained at the same time as Hathloul were also finally facing trial.


They were arrested in May 2018, shortly before the government dropped its longstanding ban on women driving. Hathloul in particular had been a prominent face of the grassroots campaign for change, and also opposed the male guardianship system, which makes women second-class citizens.


She has been in jail ever since, awaiting trial. Relatives say she has been tortured, and this year she has been held incommunicado for long stretches of time and been on hunger strike more than once. A UN women’s rights committee recently expressed alarm about her failing health.


UN human rights experts called for all charges to be dropped and for Hathloul to be released immediately.


“We are extremely alarmed to hear that Ms al-Hathloul, who has been in detention for more than two years on spurious charges, is now being tried by a specialised terrorism court for exercising her fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Elizabeth Broderick, the chair of the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls.


At a brief hearing in an ordinary court last month, when the case was referred to the terrorism court, relatives said Hathloul looked unwell, shaking and speaking in a weak voice as she read out her four-page defence.


The looming transfer of power in the US to Joe Biden will increase pressure on Riyadh over its human rights record. Donald Trump the and Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, have been close allies, their bond helping blunt international scrutiny of Saudi’s handling of dissent and its bloody intervention in Yemen.


Biden has promised to review US-Saudi relations, including Washington’s support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen. Business ties will continue, however. US dependence on Saudi oil has fallen markedly as a result of domestic shale gas production, but the kingdom’s political stability is still a key US concern.

Photo: Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Her trial began on International Human Rights Day, an irony noted by her family and campaigners. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images.

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ASIA: Pandemic fallout hampers women’s sport in Asia

Optimistic growth forecasts threatened as men’s games are given priority.


By John Duerden


Nikkei Asia (10.12.2020) – https://s.nikkei.com/382tjLx – This year started promisingly for women’s sport in the Asia-Pacific. On March 8, more than 86,000 people crammed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch Australia defeat India in the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup.


India loves cricket, and was starting to take more notice of women’s events. “Women’s cricket was thriving in early 2020,” said Vishal Yadav, founder of Female Cricket, a Mumbai academy dedicated to helping people achieve their dreams in the popular game.


“Overall, there was massive progress as they geared up for the World Cup in Australia,” Yadav said. “There was a massive crowd there with lots of Indian fans. Domestic cricket was moving forward, and there was optimism.”


If women’s cricket was starting to go places in India, the same can be said of women’s soccer in Indonesia. Esti Lestari, the chairwoman of Women’s Football Network Indonesia, was helping the game to grow in the soccer-mad country.


The founder of Persijap Kartini, Indonesia’s first professional female team, established in 2016, Lestari also helped to found a new professional league, Liga 1 Putri, in 2019. “We started the league for women last year, and everything was positive,” she said. “We were not flush with sponsors, but it was sustainable and all the clubs finished the season.”


Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the 2020 season has not yet started for Indonesian women’s soccer and many other sports around the region. The Women’s T20 World Cup cricket final was one of the last major international sporting events to take place before COVID-19 brought sport around the world to a halt earlier this year.


By August, some sports were returning. There may have been no tennis fans in New York to watch the U.S. Open women’s singles final on Sept. 12, but millions tuned in on TV to watch Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the world’s top-rated player, beat Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. In golf, Kim Sei-young continued South Korea’s domination of the women’s game on Oct. 11 by winning the Women’s PGA Championship in the United States to collect $645,000 in prize money.


In other sports, however, especially team games such as soccer, cricket and rugby, women have often had to watch the men restart while their own sports have remained in abeyance. That could threaten the future of some — including sports that were riding a wave of optimism before the pandemic began. Earlier this year, for example, the global association representing professional soccer players warned that the economic effects of the coronavirus would affect female players more than their male equivalents.


“The lack of written contracts, the short-term duration of employment contracts, the lack of health insurance and medical coverage, and the absence of basic worker protections and workers’ rights leaves many female players — some of whom were already teetering on the margins — at great risk of losing their livelihoods,” said the organization, known as FIFPRO.


In India, women’s cricket has taken a huge hit, both on and off the field and at the international and domestic levels. “There is a vast difference in the pay scale between male and female cricketers,” said Yadav. “Therefore, the female players are left with fewer or sometimes no resources to fight back against such unforeseen economic adversities.”


With a population of nearly 270 million, Indonesia has huge potential in global soccer. But it is not clear whether its nascent professional women’s league can continue after the interruption caused by the pandemic — in part because of the greater priority given to restarting the men’s game.


“We are back to where we were before. I don’t think there will be a league this year. After the pandemic, women’s football became less and less of a priority,” said Lestari. “Men’s football was given priority in getting games playing again.”


Lestari added that financial assistance from the Indonesian government and the Football Federation of Indonesia is “crucial” to keep women’s professional clubs alive. “They must assist or next year 260 players will have no team,” she said.


There is some light at the end of the tunnel. The cost of running women’s sport in team games such as soccer, rugby and cricket is far lower than for men’s sport, which makes entry costs for corporate sponsors more attractive.


“The cost of entry to support women’s sport is much less at the moment,” Steve Martin, global chief executive of the M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment agency, part of the U.K.-based M&C Saatchi Group, told SportsPro Media, a London-based sports media organization.


Martin added that if his marketing and sponsorship budget were halved, he would reconsider his options. “I maybe can’t put all of that 50% into men’s sport, so I’ll be looking at the deals I have in place and looking at the opportunity in women’s sport because I think it can be very cost-effective.”


Women’s sport in Asia should also benefit from the impact of major sporting events in the region over the next few years, including the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021 and the Women’s World Cup soccer finals in Australia and New Zealand in 2023. If the soccer tournament goes ahead as planned it will be the first to be staged in the southern hemisphere, and the first to feature 32 teams — up from 24 at the 2019 tournament in France and double the number that competed as recently as 2011.


“We have some great opportunities,” said Moya Dodd, a former Australian international soccer player. “Everyone in sport is struggling with the uncertainty of COVID right now, but in Asia we have the two most important world tournaments right here, in the next three years. That gives us a comparative advantage. I hope we can use that to boost fan interest, media reach and commercial value.”


Dodd said that planning for the resumption of women’s sports should be given the same priority by administrators and governments as the comparable men’s games, and called for long-term changes to strengthen women’s competitions in the wake of the short-term pain inflicted by the pandemic.


“As old habits are broken, we should look to rebuild sport with the equality that we want to see for future generations,” she said.

Photo: Players on the Indian national cricket team celebrate a wicket during their Women’s T20 World Cup match against Australia in Sydney on Feb. 21.   © AP.

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PALESTINE: How one woman with a disability builds a life in Gaza

People with disabilities find strength despite discrimination.


By Paul Aufiero


HRW (03.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3gn4RYS – “I think I wouldn’t have achieved so much in my life without my disability,” said Doaa Qashlan, a university graduate and disability rights activist living in Gaza. Doaa, who was born with a physical disability and uses a wheelchair or an electric mobility scooter to move around, has a supportive family. She even became the first in her family to travel abroad. But back home in Gaza, life has been increasingly difficult.


Doaa uses her mobility scooter to get around the inaccessible streets of Gaza. “They’re my legs,” she says of her assistive devices. A few months ago, Doaa’s scooter was damaged. She has still not been able to fix it, she says, as many necessary parts can’t be found in Gaza and there’s a lack of expertise to repair damaged devices. In part this stems from sweeping Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza. Today, Doaa says, she feels trapped at home.


Doaa nonetheless maintains a sense of humor, resiliency, and a hope to see things change. She is a member of the Public Relations and Media Board of the Palestinian General Union for People with Disabilities and has collaborated with international and local organizations in Gaza to raise awareness on disability rights. Her work is a testament to her perseverance. Still, life in Gaza can be hard.


New research released on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities describes how Israel’s 13-year closure and Hamas authorities’ lack of services or efforts to make public spaces accessible contribute to making life extraordinarily difficult for tens of thousands of Palestinians with disabilities in Gaza. “The situation [in Gaza] is already dire,” Doaa said. “You see how people in Gaza suffer? People with disabilities suffer double.”


Electricity outages are Doaa’s biggest daily worry. She must keep her mobility scooter charged. But Gaza’s chronic power outages, a product of restrictive Israeli policies and squabbles between Palestinian authorities, leave residents with as little as five hours of electricity per day and up to 15 hours on the best days. For Doaa and other people in Gaza with disabilities, these electricity cuts present serious obstacles to daily life – especially for those who rely on equipment powered by electricity, such as elevators and electric mobility scooters.


Even when she can leave home, Doaa struggles with living in a relatively inaccessible area where it can be difficult for her to move about, and many in her community do not understand her needs. “Our neighbor built a speedbump in our area to slow cars down. He wasn’t aware that this could injure us.”


Doaa, like others with disabilities in Gaza, particularly women, faces deeply entrenched stigma. There are little to no job prospects and their social circles run small. Even things society places high value on, like marriage, are largely out of reach. For Doaa, this stigma is a constant source of frustration. “One day, a group of girls were speaking about marriage. They mentioned that a girl with a disability got married. One of them jokingly asked, ‘I wonder how she got married?’ I got angry and asked her, ‘Has anyone asked you how you would get married?’ The girl did not reply.”


Even getting an education presented challenges for Doaa, each step of the way. By grade five, Doaa’s muscles had begun to severely weaken and walking became challenging. She recalls an incident in grade six, when she used a walker. “I wanted to go to the bathroom. In order to reach the toilet, I had to walk a long distance on an unpaved, rocky path. Some students pushed me while I was walking, and I fell down and wet myself.” When her father came to get her, he took her out of school. It was only at her mother’s insistence – her mother even left the house until her father relented – that Doaa returned to school.


Doaa’s mother is a constant source of strength for her and her younger sister Abeer, who also has a physical disability and uses a mobility scooter. When Doaa went back to school, she would arrive early to change from her mobility scooter to her wheelchair, and sometimes her mother would go over schoolwork with her while they waited for class to begin. One day, a group of people saw them, and one of them said to Doaa’s mother, “Why are you teaching her, you think she will succeed? She’s half human, go and give birth to a complete human.” Doaa says that when she used to feel depressed and didn’t want to go to school at all, sometimes counselors would visit her for psychosocial support. Later Doaa found out her mother had been arranging for that herself.


Doaa received an opportunity to attend a training program in the United Arab Emirates through a United Nations program for young people with disabilities. But after two years, Doaa made the difficult decision to return home. She was distraught coming back to Gaza but enrolled in a university program in office administration. At one point, Doaa had to leave university for a year because she and Abeer had to share one mobility scooter between them, and Abeer needed it to finish secondary school.


Having a disability in Gaza can sometimes be life-threatening. During the war in 2014 between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, Doaa was constantly afraid of being unable to escape danger in the event of an Israeli airstrike. “Each time I got into the bathroom, I was afraid if a nearby escalation took place and I needed to flee quickly, I couldn’t. I was already slow.” Doaa and her sister would sometimes even hear family members say things like, “Your family might flee and forget you at home.”


During the war, Doaa’s and Abeer’s family did have to evacuate from their home. They went to live with their aunt, whose home was not accessible. Doaa was not able to use her wheelchair in the house and had to crawl to move about. But she was embarrassed to do so in front of her male relatives in the house, so would avoid moving when they were home.


And what if she and her sister needed to flee or quickly escape a building that came under attack? The stress of the fighting, compounded with not knowing what would happen to her and Abeer should their family have to evacuate, weighed on her emotionally. “The most difficult thing was when I heard my sister say, ‘I don’t want to die and leave you on your own. I don’t want you to die and leave me on my own.’”


Today, Doaa draws hope from her friends, all of whom also have disabilities, and from her desire to see the situation change in Gaza. Before her scooter was damaged, Doaa would spend her time at the General Union to work on disability rights-related activities or attend training sessions. She is excited about efforts by local organizations that can help people with disabilities, specifically women and girls. “Focus on youth and a double focus on girls. Girls need support because they’re incredibly marginalized. They need to get a space to speak out.”


One organization has made a huge difference in her life already. Recently, the nongovernmental group Humanity and Inclusion enhanced Doaa’s home to make the kitchen and bathroom more accessible. “Now I am able to get into the kitchen and make food for me and my family.” This small improvement left an enormously positive mark on Doaa’s life, highlighting how such modest efforts to improve accessibility can go a long way to relieving the immense barriers that people with disabilities face just trying to live independent lives.


When asked what Israeli and Palestinian authorities should do for the tens of thousands of people with disabilities in Gaza, Doaa had one simple message: “Remember we are humans.”

Photo: Doaa Qashlan is photographed during an interview with Human Rights Watch in Gaza, November 18, 2020. © 2020 Yousef Mashharawi.

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LATIN AMERICA: The fight against the criminalisation of abortion goes on

By Daina Beth Solomon & Cassandra Garrison


Reuters (01.12.2020) – https://reut.rs/3orDvUe – Several weeks pregnant and about to start a job away from home, Lupita Ruiz had no doubts about wanting to end her pregnancy, despite knowing she could face jail time for having an abortion under a law in her state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.


She asked friends for help until she found a doctor two hours from her town who agreed to do it in secret.


Five years later, lawmakers in Chiapas are set to consider an initiative to halt prosecutions of women who terminate their pregnancies, part of a movement sweeping Latin America to loosen some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.


Several out of more than 20 Latin American nations ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison. Most countries, including Brazil, the region’s most populous, allow abortion only in specific circumstances, such as rape or health risk to the mother.


Just Uruguay and Cuba allow elective abortions.


In Mexico, a patchwork of state restrictions apply, but the debate is shifting, Ruiz said.


“When someone talked about abortion, they were shushed,” said the 27-year-old activist, who helped draft the Chiapas initiative. “Now I can sit down to eat a tamale and have a coffee and talk with my mom and my grandma about abortion, without anyone telling me to be quiet.”


Change is palpable across the predominantly Roman Catholic region. A new Argentine president proposed legalization last month, Chilean activists are aiming to write broader reproductive rights into a new constitution, and female lawmakers in Mexico are resisting abortion bans.


The push can be traced to Argentina’s pro-abortion protests in 2018 by as many as one million women to back a legalization bill that only narrowly failed to pass – in Pope Francis’s home country.


Catalina Martinez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy organization, said Argentina’s example inspired protests across Latin America.


“It was an awakening,” she said.


Outrage at worsening gender violence in Latin America, where the number of femicides has doubled in five years, has also spread awareness of the abortion rights movement and fueled demands for recognition of women’s rights in a conservative, male-dominated society.


“Women are finally understanding that they are not separate issues,” said Catalina Calderon, director for campaigns and advocacy programs at the Women’s Equality Center. “It’s the fact that you agree that we women are in control of our bodies, our decisions, our lives.”


The rise of social media has afforded women opportunities to bypass establishment-controlled media and bring attention to their stories, Calderon said.


“Now they’re out there for the public to discuss and for the women to react, and say: ‘This does not work. We need to do something’,” Calderon said.


As in the United States, where conservatives have made gains in restricting a woman’s right to an abortion, there is pushback in Latin America against the calls for greater liberalization.


Brazil, under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, is making it even harder for women to abort.


The Argentine Episcopal Conference has said it does not want to debate abortion during the coronavirus crisis, and alluded to comments by the Pope urging respect for those who are “not yet useful,” including fetuses.


Yet trust in the Catholic Church, which believes life begins at conception, is fading, with many Latin Americans questioning its moral legitimacy because of sexual abuse by priests.


Spreading ‘green wave’


Argentina could be first up for sweeping change, with a bill submitted to Congress by center-left President Alberto Fernandez seeking to legalize elective abortions.


Approval for legalization has risen eight percentage points since 2014, according to an August Ipsos poll, with support split nearly evenly between those who favor elective abortion and those who are for it only in certain circumstances.


“The dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system,” Fernandez said.


According to the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based reproductive health research organization, an estimated 29% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean from 2015 to 2019 ended in abortion, encompassing 5.4 million women. The abortions are often clandestine, so figures are hard to determine.


The mass demonstrations in Argentina two years ago, known as the “green wave” protests, have reverberated.


Since mid-2018, lawmakers in Mexico have filed more than 40 proposals to end punishment for abortion, according to Mexican reproductive rights group GIRE.


In Chiapas, the de-criminalization effort is the first of its kind since a brief period in the 1990s when abortion was legalized during the left-wing Zapatista rebellion.


Although Chiapas does not on paper punish abortion with prison, it can jail women for the “killing” of their infants.


With Mexico’s first leftist government in a century in power, national lawmakers are considering two initiatives to open up restrictions and strip away criminal punishments from places like Sonora state, where abortion can be punished by up to six years in prison.


Only two federal entities, Mexico City and Oaxaca, allow elective abortions.


Wendy Briceno, a Sonoran lawmaker who has backed a nationwide legalization bill, said the initiatives have a good chance to pass if the debate centers on women’s health, especially given rising outrage over femicides.


In Chile, activists are celebrating a vote in October to write a new constitution as a chance to expand a 2017 law that permitted abortion to save a mother’s life, in cases of rape, or if the fetus is not viable.


Colombia, where the constitutional court has agreed to consider a petition to remove abortion from the penal code, could set an example, said Anita Pena, director of Chilean reproductive rights group Corporacion Miles.


Activists agree there is still a long way to go, with restrictive laws entrenched in many countries.


To Briceno, Brazil’s shift to the right under Bolsonaro, who has vowed to veto any pro-abortion bills, was a reminder to push even harder for abortion rights.


“No fight is ever finished,” she said.

Photo: Pro-abortion activist Lupita Ruiz poses for a photo during an interview with Reuters, in Mexico City, Mexico. November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan.

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