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.




AFGHANISTAN: Women with disabilities face systemic abuse

Barriers, discrimination in health care, education.

 

HRW (27.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Yzlda3 – Afghan women and girls with disabilities face high barriers, discrimination, and sexual harassment in accessing government assistance, health care, and schools, Human Rights Watch said today.

 

The 31-page report, “‘Disability Is Not Weakness’: Discrimination and Barriers Facing Women and Girls with Disabilities in Afghanistan,” details the everyday barriers that Afghan women and girls with disabilities face in one of the world’s poorest countries. Decades of conflict have decimated government institutions, and development efforts have failed to reach many communities most in need. The Afghan government should urgently reform policies and practices that prevent women and girls with disabilities from enjoying their basic rights to health, education, and work. Afghanistan’s donors should support and advocate for the rights of all Afghans with disabilities.

 

“All Afghans with disabilities face stigma and discrimination in getting government services, but women and girls are the ‘invisible’ victims of this abuse,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Covid-19 crisis will make it even harder for women and girls with disabilities to get adequate health care.”

 

Afghanistan has one of the world’s largest populations per capita of people with disabilities. More than four decades of war have left millions of Afghans with amputated limbs, visual or hearing disabilities, and depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. The under-resourced Afghan health services are failing to meet the needs of this population, and women and girls with disabilities are far less likely to obtain any assistance.

 

Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 women and girls with disabilities and their families in the cities of Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif, and 14 health and education professionals in these cities.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates the problems faced by many people with disabilities. For Afghan women with disabilities who live in rural areas far from medical clinics, the absence of transportation, lack of paved roads, and long distances to clinics can create insurmountable barriers to obtaining health care. The Afghan government should undertake a comprehensive review of health services for people with disabilities, particularly in rural areas, to improve outreach and access.

 

A young woman whose family moved to the city because of her disability said: “I know people who are in remote districts, but since they have no one [to bring them], they cannot benefit from [healthcare] services.”

 

Government officials have sexually harassed women with disabilities, including when they visit ministries to claim disability benefits. The stigma associated with reporting abuse of this kind means that few women, especially those with disabilities, report those responsible. A woman in Kabul said: “I went to the ministry to get this certificate [for assistance]. They asked me whether I am married and when I said no, they told me that they can find me a husband. When I refused, the ministry employee told me that I can get this certificate only if I agree to be his girlfriend.”

 

Entrenched discrimination means that people with disabilities face significant obstacles to education, employment, and health care, rights guaranteed under the Afghan constitution and international human rights law. For example, many people with disabilities in Afghanistan have not been able to acquire the national identity card (taskera) needed to obtain many government services.

 

An estimated 80 percent of girls with disabilities are not enrolled in school. Resistance from schools to accommodate children with disabilities, lack of dedicated transportation, and families’ reluctance to send children with disabilities to school are major factors preventing children with disabilities from attending school. The Afghan government should develop sustainable solutions to increase access to quality, inclusive education for children with disabilities, particularly girls.

 

Girls with disabilities are far more likely to be kept home from school because of compounded socio-economic barriers and violence. An official with a humanitarian group said that children with disabilities “cannot go to regular schools due to lack of ramps. In some cases, the school principals do not want to enroll them, because they need to be taken care of.”

 

Afghan women and girls with disabilities are frequently socially isolated, humiliated in public or within their own families, considered a source of shame for the family, or denied access to public spaces and community or family social events. “I’m supposed to get married, but my future in-laws think I cannot now,” said a woman injured during fighting in 2017. “I have no hope for the future, but if I get treatment, I would have hope.”

 

“In preparing for possible peace talks, Afghanistan’s leaders have generally ignored the large population of Afghans who have disabilities, many as a direct result of the conflict,” Gossman said. “The government needs to ensure that anyone with a disability gets the assistance they need, now and in the future.”




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.”




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.




How blackmail, harassment forced Pakistani women from university

Many parents pull out their daughters from Balochistan University after CCTV footage was used to blackmail students.

 

By Iman Sultan

 

Al Jazeera (09.01.2020) – https://bit.ly/35AkogX – Rahila* had missed the deadline to submit her application for admission to Balochistan University, and feared she would now have to wait months before being able to apply again.

 

A teacher at the pharmacy department, however, offered to help her submit her forms and gain admission to the university, the main institute for higher education in the southwestern Pakistani province after which it is named.

 

After she filled out the forms, however, she alleges the same teacher began to harass her by sending her text messages, mostly at night, and threatened to cancel her admission when she did not reply to him.

 

“From his words, I could tell his intentions were not good,” Rahila, 20, said. “I felt so strange about it. I used to call him ‘sir’ with so much respect to his face, and he turned out to be this creepy, inappropriate person. At that point, I lost confidence in myself.”

 

Rahila’s experience is just one of many cases of alleged sexual harassment at this government-run university, where allegations have been made that university officials used CCTV footage of male and female students mingling to extort and blackmail them.

 

Balochistan has a female literacy rate of 33.5 percent, and the danger of harassment is often cited by parents who refuse to send their daughters to school. Only 5.07 percent of Pakistan’s roughly 102 million women ever complete university, according to the country’s bureau of statistics.

 

In October last year, the Balochistan High Court directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the allegations against university officials, directing officials to submit a full report on the blackmail allegations.

 

News of the scandal led Javed Iqbal, the university’s vice-chancellor, to step down, and many parents pulled their daughters out of the university.

 

“All the struggle people did for women’s education has suffered a setback of 20 or 30 years because of this scandal,” said Shain Taj Raisani, 26, an MPhil student at the university.

 

“Girls who were coming into the education field with their opinions now feel threatened.”

 

Education a key battleground

 

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, is rich in mineral resources and is home to a port at the heart of China’s $60bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project that runs through the country.

 

The province is, however, one of the least developed parts of the country, with its vast, rugged terrain only sparsely populated by small towns and villages.

 

Education is a key battleground. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, less than 12 percent women in Balochistan made it past primary school.

 

Many say the recent scandal has led to even more parents pulling their daughters out of higher education.

 

“A [university] hostel is like a home […] if your daughter isn’t safe at school, then her parents won’t let her study at the university,” Mahrang Baloch, 25, a student at Bolan Medical College located in the provincial capital Quetta, added.

 

Security on campus

 

Home to about 10,000 students, Balochistan University is not your typical university campus. Located on Sariab Road in the southern quarter of Quetta, the area has often been the site of suicide bombings or targeted attacks against security forces or, on occasion, university officials.

 

“Many professors have fallen victim to this terrorism in the past 12 years,” said a senior FIA official investigating the video scandal case. “Both professors and students have been martyred. We’ve lost too many people,” the officer, who wished to remain anonyous, told Al Jazeera.

 

CCTV cameras have been installed all over the campus to safeguard students and faculty against that threat, and both police and paramilitary soldiers are stationed across the university.

 

Students, however, fear that the pervasive security on campus had undermined their learning experience. Others say it has contributed to the atmosphere of harassment at the university.

 

“When I was at university, [the paramilitary Frontier Corps] had made its checkpoints everywhere. They would harass and throw their numbers [written on pieces of paper] at women,” Yassir Baloch, 27, who graduated from the university in 2017, said.

 

“And they’d sexually harass and blackmail young men, who had just come from college and were 20 or 21 years old. Sometimes, [security and university officials] would catch couples too. They’d tell them we’ll show this video to your parents. If you give us Rs 50,000 [roughly $320], we’ll delete the video.”

 

Wali Rehman, the registrar of the university, however, said paramilitary soldiers don’t interfere in the “academic blocks”, but pass through “university-regulated areas, grounds, sports area and colony”.

 

“Frontier Corps isn’t there to tell students what to do or not to do. They only come if there’s danger,” he told Al Jazeera.

 

In November, security forces agreed to vacate the university after a parliamentary committee recommended universities reevaluate the deployment of security forces amid public pressure in the wake of the CCTV scandal.

 

The misuse of cameras

 

The university currently has 56 CCTV cameras in operation, down from 94 cameras, three of which did not work. According to the registrar, the university disconnected “unnecessary” cameras, referring to the installation of CCTV in “unauthorised” places.

 

“At the direction of the court, we disconnected 37 cameras. Cameras that were in places where they were not needed were uninstalled,” Rehman, the registrar, told Al Jazeera.

 

During the investigation into the video scandal, the FIA obtained university and security officials’ laptops and mobile phones, and Saifullah Langove, the head of the security control room, was removed from his post.

 

The senior FIA official investigating the case said there was no standard operating procedure for how the data collected on them would be used.

 

“Cameras wouldn’t have been misused if the protocol was defined,” he said.

 

The university said it is now developing a new policy for how the cameras will be used and who controls them.

 

There, is, however, scepticism among digital rights activists on the effectiveness of such surveillance systems, and their effects.

 

“Technology will enable universities to see their students on all corners and regulate them. When you feel you are being watched, you’ll start to behave how authority wants you to,” said Shmyla Khan, a project manager for Digital Rights Foundation.

 

Meanwhile, a sexual harassment committee has been set up in the university, headed by Sobiah Ramzan of the Institute of Management Sciences. The local provincial committee is also investigating the affair.

 

An ongoing investigation

 

Women who have faced harassment at the university may be too scared to come forward because of the shame associated with sexual assault in a tribal society.

 

“If something happened to me, even if I wanted to come forward, I wouldn’t be able to confess because we live in a tribal society,” Sadia Baloch, a 19-year-old student at the university’s law college, said. “On account of our families, we can’t even talk about it.”

 

The FIA officer said that he had been investigating the case for months, and the media had, in fact, frightened away victims, who may have otherwise come forward to assist with the investigation.

 

“We live in a very conservative society [in Balochistan]. If there are victims, they don’t want to come forward anymore,” he said.

 

Students who claim to be in contact with sexual harassment victims confirmed to Al Jazeera that many “girls are scared” and do not trust that their privacy would be protected through the investigation process.

 

“Who can guarantee if a girl comes forward, her information won’t be leaked?” Mahrang Baloch told Al Jazeera.