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Egyptians outraged over some schools forcing girls to wear the hijab

A 13-year-old girl was recently forced to wear the hijab at her school in Egypt, which prompted a wave of condemnation that revealed similar practices across the country.

 

Al-Monitor (30.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/3mLP73K – Controversy has recently surfaced in Egypt after a 13-year-old girl was forced to wear the hijab at the school she attends in Sharqia governorate. The incident has shed light on similar cases across the country.

 

Lamia Loutfi, the girl’s Muslim mother and program manager at the New Woman Foundation, a human rights institution based in Cairo that provides support to female victims of violence and discrimination, filed complaints Oct. 21 against the school’s teachers over their attempts to force girls, including her daughter, to wear the hijab.

 

She told Al-Monitor about the incident that took place Oct. 20. She was shocked to hear her daughter telling her that school officials had forced the girls to wear the hijab, including Christian students.

 

Loutfi contacted the school and the director confirmed what her daughter had told her, saying that all the girls are required to wear the hijab at school as part of their uniform and are free to remove it when they leave, and that girls in other schools are required to wear the hijab, too.

 

When she threatened to file a complaint against the school, the director said she will not allow Loutfi’s daughter to enter the school campus unless she wears the hijab. “They told me, ‘Take whatever measures you want. We will not allow the girl to enter the school. These are our conditions,’” Loutfi said.

 

Article 53 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates, “Citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation or for any other reason.”

 

The hijab is an Islamic practice adopted by many women in Muslim countries. However, some Muslim women choose not to wear the veil.

 

This incident drew condemnation across the country, with parents launching the Arabic hashtag #forcing_girls_to_wear_the_hijab, revealing similar practices in many schools across Egypt. Some families have not opposed such practice out of fear that their children would be kicked out of school.

 

Hanan Noureddine, a Muslim housewife, told Al-Monitor that her two daughters, aged eight and 10, were forced to veil at the two schools they attend. “We got angry at first, but then we decided to let them wear the veil in order to avoid troubles with the school and bullying from the teachers.”

 

On Oct. 21, the National Council for Women filed a complaint to Minister of Education Tarek Shawki. The complaint included a plea from a mother whose daughter, along with other students, was threatened by her teachers and forced to wear the hijab under the pretext that it is part of the school’s uniform.

 

Kamal Mughith, an expert on educational affairs at the National Center for Educational Research and Development‎, condemned the attempts to force girls to wear the hijab at school, saying such practices deviate the attention from the school’s main role of providing education.

 

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Mughith stressed “the need that the education minister goes public on whether or not he supports such practices. The hijab should be a personal matter that girls themselves need to decide on, not an obligation under the pretext of a school uniform.”

 

Meanwhile, the New Woman Foundation circulated Oct. 21 a petition against forcing schoolgirls to wear the hijab, which dozens of institutions and public figures signed. The petition stressed the state’s obligations under the constitution to guarantee the rights of women and children to citizenship without any discrimination on the basis of gender or religion.

 

Shawki condemned the campaign and said that he is against forcing students to wear the hijab at school. He referred to this case as “an isolated incident” that people overreacted to. He said in a TV statement Oct. 22 that such campaigns are “similar to what the malicious channels and Egypt’s enemies do.”

Photo: A woman stands with books in front of a shelf inside the main building of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina library in the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt, June 24, 2019. Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images.





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World Bank: Tanzania loan should promote all girls’ education

New Q&A on discrimination against pregnant students, young mothers.

 

HRW (24.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Sd8WUM – The World Bank should work with the Tanzanian government to ensure that all pregnant girls and adolescent mothers can attend public schools, Human Rights Watch said in a question and answer document released today. The World Bank should not disburse the initial tranches of an education 19901990 loan to Tanzania planned for 2021 until the government guarantees equal access to free and compulsory primary education and equal access to secondary education for all girls.

 

On March 31, 2020, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a US$500 million loan to Tanzania for its secondary education program. In doing so, the World Bank ignored a government policy, supported by President John Magufuli, which prevents pregnant students and adolescent mothers from attending the country’s regular public schools. The World Bank has issued inaccurate information that dismisses the existence of this policy and disregarded the findings of nongovernmental groups that have documented the harm it causes.

 

“The World Bank, Tanzania’s largest multilateral donor, is in a great position to help ensure that every girl in Tanzania gets education without discrimination,” said Agnes Odhiambo, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The World Bank should ensure that its investments improve, not undermine, the human rights of all Tanzanian girls.”

 

In approving the loan, the World Bank did not address the concerns about the ban, leaving questions about its commitment to work to end this policy, Human Rights Watch said.

 

On April 6, Tanzania’s Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology issued a statement about the World Bank loan and said that its Secondary Education Quality Improvement Program (SEQUIP) would be carried out “without discrimination and shall include girls who drop out of school for various reasons, including pregnancy.” However, the ministry did not state that pregnant girls could return to regular public schools.

 

SEQUIP allows girls to study in so-called “alternative education pathways,” or parallel education centers, which the World Bank has characterized as a viable secondary school alternative. But the program faces challenges around low quality of education and access even for those who were trying get into them and is fee-based.

 

The Tanzania government should immediately end the school ban. President Magufuli should publicly retract his destructive comments against allowing pregnant girls to stay in school and direct his government to adopt a human rights-compliant policy to support all pregnant girls to go to school.

 

The World Bank should ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are not forced to choose a parallel, inferior education system. They should ensure that every girl is included in the formal education system. Girls should have the option to attend public primary and secondary schools or alternative learning pathways such as SEQUIP, if they choose, when they have been out of school for long periods.

 

“By approving this loan, the World Bank has endorsed inadequate measures, such as inferior parallel education options, that discriminate against girls and support abusive government policies,” Odhiambo said. “The World Bank should examine the evidence and listen to the many voices saying that while it is important to expand secondary education in Tanzania, it should not be at the expense of girls’ futures.”





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SIERRA LEONE: Discriminatory ban on pregnant girls attending school is lifted

Amnesty International (30.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/3bGXJmq – Following today’s ministerial statement to overturn with immediate effect the ban on pregnant girls attending schools, Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s Acting Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa said:

 

“Today we have cause to celebrate as thousands of pregnant girls across Sierra Leone will be allowed back into classes nationwide when schools reopen after COVID-19.

 

“This inherently discriminatory ban which was formalized for almost five years now has already deprived too many young women of their right to education, and the choice as to what future they want for themselves. It has now rightly been consigned to the history books.

 

“Indeed, pregnant girls are given back their dignity and we welcome the government announcement to overturn with immediate effect the ban on them attending school. It’s a victory for all those who campaigned tirelessly to make such a great change happen.

 

“We now hope that authorities in Sierra Leone will develop strategies to address the negative societal attitudes and stigmatization that pregnant girls have been facing for years.  This decision gives also hope to other pregnant girls in Africa who have been stigmatized, discriminated against and, in some countries, also banned from school.”

 

Background

 

Today, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education issued a statement announcing that the 2010 government decision preventing pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams was overturned with immediate effect. It is to be replaced by two new policies focused on the ‘Radical Inclusion’ and ‘Comprehensive Safety’ of all children in the education system. President Julius Maada Bio made it clear that his ‘New Direction’ Government makes decisions based on both evidence and constitutional due process.

 

On 12 December 2019 the regional Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice ruled that the ban should be revoked. The case challenging the ban was brought by Sierra Leonean NGO (WAVES) in partnership with Equality Now and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA). Amnesty International intervened as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”).

 

The organization has previously documented how the ban put the rights of thousands of girls under threat. The ban was formally issued in April 2015 during the Ebola crisis. Due to Ebola, there was a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies and government should put measures in place to ensure this doesn’t happen in this time of COVID-19.





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ECOWAS court deems Sierra Leone pregnant girl ban discriminatory

Sierra Leone government policy banning pregnant girls from attending school breaches the right of girls to access education, according to a ruling handed down by the Economic Community of Economic State (ECOWAS) Court of Justice on Thursday, and said that this policy is discriminatory– a victory for young girls.

 

By Laura Angela Bagnetto

 

Radio France Internationale (12.12.2019) – https://bit.ly/36EiKvK – “We hope this decision has an impact across Africa,” said Judy Gitau, Africa Regional Coordinator at Equality Now, who has worked on the case from the beginning and was present in the Abuja courtroom when the verdict was read.

 

“It not only sets out how such a practice is discriminatory, but it allows people to actually see how they’re relegating the young girls to a cycle of poverty and indignity,” she told RFI after the verdict.

 

A number of human rights groups, including Child Welfare Society, Equality Now and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IRHDA) and WAVES, a Sierra Leonean non-governmental organization, filed the case with the ECOWAS court in May 2018.

 

In court, the judges outlined the issues and succinctly answered each issue, said Gitau.

 

Discriminatory policy

 

The ECOWAS court said that Sierra Leone had an actual policy in place that banned school-age girls who fell pregnant. The government had argued that it was only an unfortunate statement from a minister, and not a policy. RFI reported on the issue back in 2015, where the chairman of the Conference of Principals indicated that it was a policy that was carried out in Sierra Leonean schools.

 

The court said that the ban was discriminatory and ordered the government to lift the ban with immediate effect.

 

The court also ordered the government to carry out four distinct measures in order to reduce teenage pregnancies in school. Providing sexual reproductive education, sensitising the communities on issues of discrimination, and abolishing the parallel, inadequate schools for pregnant girls.

 

The schools had been created by non-state actors, who only taught four subjects, three times a week, not in line with the Sierra Leone educational standards.

 

Vulnerable girls pay the price

 

The previous government had put this policy banning pregnant girls in place, but the advent of Ebola worsened the situation, according to Gitau.

 

A spike in teen pregnancies arose during and after the Ebola crisis.

 

“The majority of these girls were victims of sexual violence on account that their caregivers and guardians died and were no longer available,” said Gitau.

 

A decision with impact

 

Human rights groups hope that this ban will push other African countries who discriminate to change their stance.

 

“This delivers a clear message to other African governments who have similar bans, such as Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea, or may be contemplating them, that they should follow this groundbreaking ruling and take steps to allow pregnant girls access to education in line with their own human rights obligations,” said Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s West Africa deputy campaign director.


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