Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yemeni Women Find Their Voices

In the traditional Yemeni culture, women are often not heard. However, many are now taking an active part in the uprisings. This article was originally published on the website of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), written by Afrah Nasser.

Traditionally in Yemen, women are – literally – not allowed to raise their voices. In peaceful circumstances, even calling out in the street to attract someone’s attention is considered unacceptable behaviour. But now, in the protests, it is very much welcomed and there is an amazing response when we raise our voices.

Everybody acknowledges that yes, we do have a voice, and the role of women in this uprising is increasing day by day as we enter a new time of freedom for everyone.

Women’s participation in this revolution started on a very small scale. There were only about ten women in Sana’a’s Change Square when the pro-democracy protests started. But with each day, it has been noticeable how the numbers of women grew as female protesters brought their sisters, cousins, friends. The number multiplied incredibly. Women are treated with grace and respect in the square. When I go there, I am treated like a VIP. Usually in Yemen, women get harassed all the time, but in Change Square nobody touches me. It is the safest place in Sana’a for women.

And life is indeed challenging for Yemeni women, every day. We constantly fight to claim our rights at home, in the street, at work. In any kind of field, a woman has to increase her efforts hugely to succeed. For instance, a 19-year-old cousin of mine won a scholarship to study in Germany and her brother refused to let her go. After a big fight, she had no choice but to give in.

If a man makes one per cent effort, a woman needs to make 200 per cent effort to get the same result. I work as a journalist and I am the only woman in the newsroom. Even there my colleagues find it hard to accept that I do go to places dominated by men to report.

There is some political participation by women, but it is very timid - women still live in a prison of their own fear. We are not very politically aware. It is a process and we are still at the very beginning. There are a few women politicians and about 18 months ago President Ali Abdullah Saleh instituted a 15 per cent quota of seats for women – but there aren’t enough women politicians to fill it.

But despite this women have been participating in the protests to an unbelievable extent. The female protesters come from all sectors of Yemeni society - women who do not have their faces covered, like me, and others are much more conservative. They are coming to an awareness that they have to be a huge part of building this country. We gain in confidence and women begin to think that they have to have a voice, a place in this new society - something that has never happened before.

Talking to other friends of mine, we feel we are revolting against our parents too. It’s a double revolution, inside our homes as well as in Change Square. Each one of us faces resistance from our parents, who demand to know why we think change is so important. Many of our parents are devoted to the president and the old regime, and they are opposed to us taking part in the demonstrations. So we face oppression both at home and in the public sphere.

The extremism and violence Saleh predicts will sweep Yemen without him is just propagan da. None of that will happen and I don’t see the danger of a civil war. I would like to see a peaceful transfer of power and the beginning of a new, democratic process, to have the same result here as in Egypt and Tunisia.

I am not worried that there will be violence like there is now in Libya. There is no way things will deteriorate here to that extent. The violence last week in which more than 50 people were killed won’t be repeated, I don’t think.

I am worried about what the future holds – not because of the fear of violence, but because of the uncertainty. But when I go to Change Square I see the harmony and tolerance between the different protesters, a sign that a peaceful change is possible.

Nadia Al-Saqqaf, SAVE Yemen, on PBS Newshour

Nadia Al-Saqqaf, editor of the Yemen Times and representative of SAVE Yemen appeared on PBS Newshour on March 24 to give an insight into the demands of the protestors in Yemen, and apprehensions about the future.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Jasmine revolution has made one thing very clear: Women are today a force to reckon with.

SAVE, for the last two years has been propagating one thing: ‘Say No to Violent Extremism’- no matter who is behind it - state, clergy, extremist organizations or individuals. The Jasmine revolution has thrown up a number of female role models who prove that women are change makers that propagate this philosophy, says Archana Kapoor, SAVE India.

The Yemeni Ambassador to India, Khadija Radman Mohamed Ghanem, a woman, is one such example. On March 22, 2011, after the death of 52 Yemeni civilians at the hands of government forces, Khadija declared openly her support for the protesters. In fact the 57-year-old Kahdija, who came to India in 2010,sent a statement to the Al Arabiya TV channel saying: “We, ambassador of Yemen and Yemen’s diplomatic corps, declare our support for the peaceful youth revolution in Yemen and their demand for transition in the country after the situation worsened in a very painful manner...We cannot accept it or justify it.”

The statement also said, “We will continue our assignment as member of the diplomatic corps of Yemen,” signed by the ambassador and four of her diplomatic colleagues. Kahdija was deputy minister for women’s affairs in Yemen.

I think this is the kind of courage we need to reject violence. The Jasmine revolution has made one thing very clear: Women are today a force to reckon with. The scent of the Jasmine Revolution which spread like wild fire in the Arab world, clearly reflects the important role that women can and have played in ousting and fighting violence.

Before the revolution in Tunisia, the only reference to women was to the First Lady, Laila Al Trabelsi, and her excesses. She collected real estate, villas and bank accounts, unlike the First lady of Philippines Imelda Marcus, who only collected shoes! The protests grew with women coming out onto the streets in full force, and breaking down stereotypes. Women were on the frontlines of the protests chanting slogans like “Bread, water, and no Ben Ali”. The most popular slogan on the streets was “No to the Trabelsis who looted the budget”.

In Egypt we saw images of women moving along side men, protesting, shouting and spending nights at the Tahrir square. Women from all walks of life- poor, rich, middle class, with heads covered or uncovered, Christians and Muslims- all demanded the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. They relentlessly faced the batons of the police, the bullets and the tear gas. Postings on Facebook and Twitter only helped their cause and got more and more women on the streets.

Today Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and more countries in West Asia are going through a crisis. The women of the world need to unite and provide comfort to those whose children are being slaughtered- killed indiscriminately for asking for their rights. Today we all need to be part of this campaign...we all need to say NO to violence and extremism!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obeidi is standing up for her rights against taboos. We must stand with her.

Today, the international media has been reporting the disturbing news that Iman al-Obeidi is facing criminal charges in Libya. Obeidi’s sole offence appears to have been speaking out about her alleged gang rape by 15 of Gaddafi’s soldiers.

Obeidi burst into a Tripoli hotel hosting western reporters on Saturday, desperately announcing that she had been raped repeatedly by government militiamen. She held up her abaya to show injuries to her right leg.

She was immediately silenced by hotel staff and security, bundled into a car and taken hostage at a government complex. A government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, contradicted himself continually, initially announcing that Obeidi was not to be trusted, as she was drunk and delusional. Later that day, he said she was sober and sane, but the following day called her a prostitute and a thief.

Although some reports say that she was released late on Monday, the latest stories carried by international media say that the men she accused of rape have filed a case against her.

Spokesman Ibrahim said: “The boys who she accused of rape are bringing a case because it is a very grave offense to accuse someone of a sexual crime.” This statement shows no recognition that it is in fact a greater offense to commit a sexual crime.

In Libyan culture it is unusual for a woman to speak out against sexual abuse, as any woman who is raped is considered by many to have lost her honour. Obeidi is being held up as a heroine by the opposition for breaking taboos and having the self-confidence to stand up for her rights.

Rape is too often used as a weapon in situations of conflict. Obeidi claims that the men stopped her at a road block and raped her because she is from Benghazi, which is the stronghold of the opposition. In innumerable conflicts, men have abused women of the other ethnic or political groups to express their dominance over the opposition. Women’s bodies are used as pawns, their rights disrespected and their lives scarred. Obeidi is a symbol of strength in the face of this ongoing tyranny, speaking out to show that rape cannot be tolerated or ignored.

Instead of backing claims filed against her, the Libyan government should be ensuring that Obeidi is properly medically cared for, and that a thorough investigation into this case is carried out. Additionally, in every conflict situation there should be mechanisms to ensure that cases of rape are kept to a minimum, all cases are reported and that any women subjected to rape are properly cared for. Legally-binding resolutions such as UNSCR 1820, issued by the UN Security Council, demand an end to sexual violence in situations of armed conflict. All governments, both Libyan and any intervening forces, are therefore obligated to take action to prosecute rape cases and to ensure that the appropriate measures are taken to reduce rape, such as enforcing appropriate military disciplinary measures, upholding the principle of command responsibility, debunking myths that fuel sexual violence, vetting armed and security forces to take into account past actions of rape and other forms of sexual violence, and evacuation of women and children under imminent threat of sexual violence to safety.

One of the clearest ways to prevent soldiers using rape as a weapon is to show that their actions will have consequences. Currently, the Libyan government is not reinforcing that lesson. Women without Borders condemns all forms of sexual violence. We call on the Libyan government to ensure that Obeidi is given fair treatment before the law, and to ensure that all soldiers of both sides know that sexual violence of any form and towards any individual will not be tolerated.

Monday, March 28, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: SAVE Yemen, Massive explosion kills 160

A massive explosion hit an ammunitions factory today in the town of Jaar, Abyan, among rising fears that Islamist extremism will be used as an excuse for President Saleh to stay in power. Maha* told us that 160 people have so far died due to the blast, many of them women and children. Yemeni people expect the government to announce that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is behind the incident, although most believe it is a plot by the government. According to people on the ground, government soldiers had left the factory, leaving it open for locals to raid. The blast took place while the civilians were inside the factory. “Yemenis think this is one of Saleh’s plays to prove to the international community that Yemen will descend into chaos if he steps down,” said Maha. “Saleh is playing the Al-Qaeda card.”

Safe hands could be a woman’s hands: protesters support Amat Al Alim Alsoswa for president

President Saleh now appears on television daily to make statements about his intentions. The latest reports show that he withdrew an offer to step down within 6 months, saying that he will only leave if he can turn the country over to “safe hands”.

Speculation that those hands could be female has increased over the last few days. Although many at first identified Tawakkol Karman as a strong option for change in Yemen, support has increased for another candidate: Amat Al Alim Alsoswa. Alsoswa is famous for being one of the only women to reach high government postings in Yemen. She was educated in Egypt and the USA, and became Yemen’s first woman undersecretary for the Ministry of Information, first woman ambassador to the Netherlands, and first woman minister for Human Rights. She is now Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. “Alsoswa is very respected in Yemen,” said Maha. “Yemen has been ruled by queens before, and those were the best times this country knew. It would be great for us to be ruled by a woman in modern times. I doubt that it is possible, but who knows; during a revolution, miracles can happen.”

Women’s role in the protests is changing day by day. Women have begun to stay overnight in Change Square, sleeping in tents. Such practices would never normally be accepted in Yemen. Some Yemenis express their concern over Facebook: “One protester wrote on Facebook that he respects all the women who have joined the revolution, but that he does not like the fact that women are staying in the tents,” said Maha.

Discontent with international intentions

Certain segments of the Yemeni society have expressed their wish for the international community to ask Saleh to step down. After observing the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Yemeni youth leaders expected a stronger reaction from other governments in support of their drive for change. The revolutionaries continue to reject Saleh’s claim that the country will descend into civil war, should he step down. They emphasize that, although there are a predicted 60 million guns in Yemen, the revolution has been peaceful from the beginning.

Sandstorm increases difficulties in Sana’a as revolution drifts towards stalemate

A huge sandstorm hit Sana’a yesterday, where people are still protesting by the thousands in the streets. Young people in Change Square are wearing masks and struggling to breathe in the dust-filled air. The sandstorm began on Sunday, and is predicted to continue for three days. Maha, our contact in Yemen, says it is one of the strongest she has seen. Some schools have stopped teaching due to the sand, but protesters remain undeterred.

Other sections of the population are beginning to lose their optimism. “Yemen will collapse economically before it collapses politically,” commented one Yemeni professor. Prices have increased exponentially since the beginning of the revolution. Maha estimates that the price of gas has gone up 50%. Gas is now hardly available outside the black market. “I do not know how they are surviving,” Maha said of the large number of Yemenis who live in poverty. Many of them live on less than 1 US dollar a day.

*Name has been changed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: SAVE Yemen, Latest Update

Out of the uncertain situation, a solution involving civil society and youth leaders is emerging, along with the suggestion that a woman, Tawakkol Karman, could be Yemen's best choice for president.

Tawwakol Karman, Yemeni human rights
activist, journalist and politician.
Image: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Tomorrow will be a big day for Yemen. Opposition parties are calling for a march on the presidential palace despite President Saleh’s declaration of emergency powers banning protests. Some youth leaders are advocating for protesters to stay in Change Square, refusing the call from the political opposition parties to march. However, neither seems to be deterred by the prohibition on demonstrations, and protesters see Friday as the day that they will definitively demand Saleh’s resignation.

A solution to the power vacuum
Maha (name changed), one of our partners in Yemen, reported today that Yemenis on the ground are refusing Saleh’s announcement that civil war will ensue if he steps down. “Many are saying that that claim is ridiculous, and that Saleh is just trying to stop change happening,” said Maha.

Claims of impending civil war surround the defection of powerful military leaders to the opposition, including General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, President Saleh’s half brother and military commander of Yemen’s north-western area. He has pledged his support to the protesters. “Many are skeptical about al-Ahmar’s defection to the opposition,” said Maha. “They think that this is just a way for those who are already in power to retain their positions.”

Protestors and leaders from several opposition parties have now come up with a proposal to fill the power vacuum should Saleh step down soon. They have suggested a “traditional committee” made up of leading civil society figures and youth leaders. No names have so far concretely emerged, but they are certain that they would not allow military figures to be part of the committee. Maha says that there are many qualified people in Yemeni society who would be able to fill this committee.

Women’s role in a new Yemen
Yemen has modeled much of its revolution on Egypt’s experiences. Although many women were outspoken and instrumental in Egypt’s protests, no women have so far been consulted in the process of constitutional change. “This is related to our Arabic culture,” said Maha. “It is very sad, especially because women have worked so hard, and their voices have been so powerful both in Egypt and Yemen. I do not have much hope that a committee in Yemen would have women representatives. Women are often used as a card, played when it is needed, such as during elections or revolutions, then forgotten when men have achieved what they were striving for.”

One woman whose voice is listened to by Yemenis is Tawakkol Karman. Lately, a debate has started on facebook, with many advocating for Karman to become Yemen’s president. “She had a lot of support before the revolution, and many people – both men and women – think she is the best choice. She has a vision for Yemen’s future. She is brave and has a record of social justice. Her popularity has hugely increased since she became active in the revolution. Of course, there are also many who make impolite comments and say that it is a stupid idea that a woman should rule over Yemen’s men.” So far, Karman herself does not appear to have commented on the possibility of herself taking a position in a new order. Much of the debate has taken place over Facebook, as it is a safer arena to express opinions, but Maha says there are also conversations about Karman’s future taking place in the streets.

Who is Tawakkol Karman?
Tawakkol Karman is the 32 year old chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains and a human rights activist. In the last elections in 2003, Karman won a seat in parliament along with 12 other female members of Islah, the main opposition party that stands for reforms. In 2005, Karman founded Women Journalists Without Chains in defense of human rights and freedom of expression including the right to public protests. She has been in the forefront in agitating against a draft amendment to the Constitution of Yemen to allow the president to remain in office for life.

Karman has already been arrested more than once this year for her activities in support of revolution. In her advocacy work she is not only a loud voice supporting women’s rights, but also addresses unemployment and corruption in Yemeni society as a whole.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Our partner in Yemen has today updated us further on the situation in Sana’a, emphasizing the role women are playing in the protests and informing us about the massive protests planned for Friday.

Yemen has in the last few days witnessed a deluge of resignations. Saleh's tribespeople, who are in a very powerful position in government and military institutions, have resigned and announced that they are joining the Youth Revolution.

Yet, the resignation of Ali Mohsen AL-Ahmar, Saleh's half brother, was surprising for all Yemenis and it has stirred much debate. Many think his resignation comes late, and they condemn the 'dirty' history of Al-Ahmar and his role in the Sada'a war. They picture him as a criminal, holding him to be a member of Saleh's family that should be held accountable for a number of crimes and corruption.

Youth in "Change Square" have doubts about many of the late resignations of high-military officials who have been known for corruption and "black history". Young people are afraid that such people aim to hijack the revolution to seize power. However, some youth have welcomed such new alliances that will support the revolution, asking their peers to forget the past and start a new era.

Women and the Watan Coalition

Women are instrumental in the protests. Along with their children, they take to the streets to join protests in Change Square, and they organize sit-ins. Significantly, women stay up late (until 10 or 11pm) in the protestors' camps; something that is not common in the conservative Yemeni society. For moral support, women cook and supply food to the protesters; they write slogans and verses on the bread such as "Go out" or "People want the regime to be ousted". Significantly, women and men are mixing in the camps. "It is amazing. Here in Change Square, despite the huge number of protesters, I do not get harassed or criticized for being who I am. I am with my hair, not wearing the Yemeni Abya'a, but I feel welcomed and I feel that everybody here accepts the others. I cannot find such a thing anywhere but here in Change Square,” an-open-minded Yemeni lady excitedly said.

Yemeni women activists have established the 'Watan' Coalition'; Watan means "Nation", through which they support the protesters by all means. Apart from providing food, they are also ensuring that protestors have access to medical supplies and clinics. They have an active page on Facebook too.

Women made up a fantastic picture on Sunday when a massive (with around a million attendees) funeral for last Friday's 52 martyrs took place. Women even prayed along with men for the souls of the martyrs. One woman happily commented "It was the first time I see Yemeni women pray in public. Thank God I lived to see such a day". Although usually in the protests, women make up about 5% of the protestors, on Sunday the crowds were at least 20% women.

Despite many fears, Yemeni women are so happy to be part of the coming change and the coming "New Yemen". They believe that they, along with Yemeni men, could shape how the 'New Yemen' will look – a Yemen in which women will be an active factor.


Like in Egypt and Tunisia, Facebook has become the most important medium of communication, and revolutionaries use it to give updates from Change Square. "Now, we do not depend so much on TV or newspapers. Instead, the Media Committee on the ground in Change Square either in Sana’a or Taiz update their compatriots with breaking news, and by uploading videos of the activities of the protesters." Maha commented.

Some think that Facebook users are few in Yemen when compared to Egypt or Tunisia. The Arab Social Media Report indicated that the percentage of Yemeni Facebookers is only 0.74% (the lowest in the Arab Region). However, the message is also being spread through traditional means, and is reaching the countryside as well as the main cities. Maha emphasizes that this revolution is supported by all social classes, not just the educated elite.

At the moment, Yemeni Youth are trying to come up with a clear vision that pictures what post-revolution Yemen would look like. It is clear that the youth groups are demanding a “civic and democratic" state. They have strongly insisted that the New Yemen will not accept a take-over by anybody from the "Al-Ahmar" family, Saleh’s tribe, or any military personalities.

As a next step, the young people are calling for a massive demonstration on this coming Friday. Protestors will march towards the Presidential Palace. All roads leading towards the Palace are currently blocked by soldiers and tanks. Maha is hopeful that this protest will not be countered with violence. She thinks it would be a huge mistake for Saleh’s regime to once again crack down on protestors, having witnessed the powerful emotional reaction to last Friday’s massacre. Leading figures of the revolution, including Tawakkol Karman, chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains and one of the leading voices of the revolution, have posted messages on their Facebook pages urging Yemeni citizens to take part in Friday’s demonstration.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Breaking News: SAVE Yemen

On March 21st, SAVE Global spoke with our Yemeni partner based on the outskirts of Sana’a about recent developments in the capital, how Yemeni youth view the revolution, and her hopes and fears for the coming days.

Daily Life

Maha (name changed), a university-educated woman, explained how her life has changed since this past Friday, when a bloody massacre left over 50 anti-government protesters dead. President Saleh immediately declared a state of emergency in Yemen, which has sought to restrict the movement of individuals and closed public schools and universities (private universities, including the Islamic Iman University, remain open). When she now wants to travel to Sana’a, Maha and her family must pass through a series of checkpoints, a reality she had never before experienced.

The current uprisings throughout Sana’a are beginning to take a severe toll on the Yemeni population, at least in the capital city. Yesterday, many private companies throughout Sana’a asked their employees to return home and remain indoors; as a substantial portion of Yemenis live on less than 2 dollars a day, however, the economic pressures the state of emergency is exerting on the population have led some to defy orders and seek work.

Change, But Who and How?

While hope and a fervent desire for change can be found among the revolutionary Yemeni youth, uncertainty about the future seems to be the pervasive emotion in the homes and camps throughout Sana’a. The resignation of former key government supporters, including a number of government Ministers and Ambassadors, has created a severe sense of unease among the revolutionary population. They also fear that should Saleh fall, his half-brother or another, similarly oppressive leader will seize power, such that a regime shift may occur without any true change or development on the ground.

A significant complicating factor in the Yemeni uprisings is that while the Yemeni youth desire change, they generally support neither the government nor the opposition forces. From the beginning, the opposition group has not pandered to the youth, and the youth did not pledge their support to them. Emblematic of this indecision is the growth of a youth group that calls itself ‘The Youth Group without a Political Party,’ which is currently gaining supporters throughout Sana’a. Maha fears that the majority of the young revolutionaries have no clear idea of what the desired outcome of the uprisings should look like, nor how this change should be achieved.

As in Egypt, no single young leader is emerging out of the unrest; however, unlike in Cairo, with a population of close to 20 million, many of whom are educated, only a small minority of the less than two million people who live in Sana’a are educated. This imbalance is hindering a common formulation of what post-revolution Yemen should look like; the agitation for change, without clear direction or even the present ability of an individual to emerge out of the masses and give direction, raises questions about how successful this movement can be. Maha strongly emphasized that Yemen and Egypt cannot be compared in their revolutionary paths, as Egypt’s revolutionary youths’ very poignant idea of and desire for democracy cannot be found reflected among the Yemeni youth.


In general, Yemenis support the Allied enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya; they fear that if President Saleh is not removed, he will become a second Gaddafi. However, Yemenis are very concerned about the humanitarian consequences and are afraid that such external intervention could have a lasting effect on Libya and the Middle East in general. There are fears that the no-fly zone is the beginning of ‘a second Iraq,’ but those who are frustrated with Arab autocrats believe that there should be sacrifices in order to create change. responded that “the Yemenis feel that civilians are likely to die either way, and that it is better for civilians to die at the hands of the Allied forces than at the hands of crazy Gaddafi. They hope that Libyans will ultimately cultivate the fruits of their new revolution. ”

Western Media Focus

Western media have reported that Saleh’s tribe has rescinded his membership; when asked about how strongly this information is featured in the Yemeni media, Maha noted that it was only peripherally mentioned in the Sana’a press. Also of concern is that while the Western media have highlighted the role of Tawakkol Karman, a leading female activist who was kidnapped at the beginning of the unrest and who played a key role in the protests at the University of Sana’a, has been very quiet in recent days, even ending her text message campaign to other activists. Amal al Basha, the Executive Director of the Sisters Arab Forum, is instead slowly emerging as a very loud supporter of change.


Women are playing a significant role in this uprising. They cook and supply food to the protesters, support their husbands, and also take to the streets themselves. Significantly, women and men are mixing in the camps.

Rise of Extremsim

Maha’s friend, a political analyst, yesterday identified Taliban who are beginning to infiltrate these camps. One of their first efforts is to segregate male and female protesters, claiming that the mixing of the genders is against religious law. These initial steps, combined with the Taliban’s growing presence in the camps, raises concerns about the rise of Islamist extremists to fill the vacuum being created by revolutionary agitation with no clear goal or leader.


Facebook has become the most important medium for the youthful revolutionaries to communicate and exchange information; very few listen to or watch the news and/or read newspapers. Yesterday, a youth group began posting their demands on a Facebook page.

To read more about the situation on the ground in Yemen, visit the Yemen Times

Further up-to-date information about the uprisings in Yemen can be found on the BBC's website.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Comparing Pakistan with Bangladesh: Is South Asia Moving Toward Secularism?

Bangladesh has recently upheld a decision to ensure the separation of politics from religion. Arshi Saleem Hashmi, member of SAVE Pakistan, compares the situation in Bangladesh with that of Pakistan in a new article published by the Institute of Regional Studies, arguing that Bangladesh is creating the secular state that Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, envisioned for his country.


The decision of the Bangladesh Supreme Court regarding the ban on religion-based politics must be seen in this historical perspective. It reflects the ideology of the country’s founding fathers and has restored the original Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Following the SC Appellate Division’s decision upholding the High Court's landmark verdict of 29 August 2005 that declared the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment (1979) illegal, the ban on formation of political organizations based on religion was restored. The verdict also paved the way for ensuring secularism as the “cornerstone” of the Constitution. The Supreme Court decision vacated the stay it had granted the then BNP-JI-led government the same day that the HC judgement was announced in August 2005. (The SC Appelate Division’s verdict, which was issued in January 2010, became trapped in an appeals process until 29 July 2010.) According to Bangladeshi Law Minister Shafique Ahmed, carrying out activities of any political party based on religion is a punishable offence under the Special Powers Act. Political parties and other organizations using religion as their guideline stand banned with the annulment of the Fifth Amendment.

In the wake of this verdict, the Election Commission of Bangladesh, on 26 January 2010, asked the three religion-based parties — Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh, Khelafat Andolan and Tarikat Federation — to amend their charters as they were in conflict with the supreme law of the land.

It is important to note that unlike Pakistan, in Bangladesh, the Awami League gave the nation its first constitution within one year of independence, based on the four cardinal principles — secularism, nationalism, socialism and democracy. Bangladesh became the third major Muslim country to officially embrace secularism after Turkey and Tunisia. This way a secular state that Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had in mind when he spoke on 11 August 1948 about the basic characteristic of the newly independent nation-state Pakistan, Bangladesh in 1971 fulfilled his dream by separating the affairs of the state from religion.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah envisioned Pakistan not as a place for the ingathering of all Muslims from distant lands the way Israel sees itself regarding Jews, but as a place where Muslims of the subcontinent could feel safe economically and politically. It has very clear geographical limits, not really what today’s Islamists desire to make Pakistan as a political centre for the Muslims all over.

The most quoted and clear speech in terms of what Jinnah had in mind for Pakistan, is when on 11 August 1947 speaking in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, he stated:

There is no other solution. Now what shall we do? Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

Pakistan went on enforcing its religious identity where religion became everything, from domestic to foreign policy to culture to social issue to personal; becoming very much the business of the state. Bangladesh pursued, at least in the beginning what Jinnah had envisioned about the new Muslim State in the subcontinent.

To read the full article by Arshi Saleem Hashmi, follow this link.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Radio Deradicalization Campaign Broadcasts in Pakistan

Radio is one of the most widely used forms of mass communication in Pakistan. A new program is using the incredible potential of this medium as a way to foster non-violence and tolerance within society.

The Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) and the Radical Middle Way (RMW), a UK-based organization, set on air an FM Radio Deradicalization Campaign in Pakistan in national and regional languages on 1st March 2011. The PIPS has collaborated with the RMW to produce and disseminate this campaign as part of its Deradicalization Plan (2007-13). The purpose is to counter the extremist ideologies at societal level by creating awareness among the people about Islamic messages of peace, tolerance, religious harmony, peaceful co-existence and social welfare.

This campaign, which is totally non-political and non-sectarian in its content and objectives, includes 36 programs in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashtu and Potohari languages which are classified into following four themes: Talk shows series; Radio drama series; Radio feature packages; and Lectures. The campaign is currently being broadcasted, at its first stage, in major cities of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa by leading local FM radio outlets.

Recordings of the selected programs will be soon placed at Pak Institute for Peace Studies’ website

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

SAVE Yemen Thoughts on International Women's Day

A member of SAVE Yemen reflects on the unstable situation in the country and remembers the women of Yemen who will not be celebrating International Women's Day this year.

Tomorrow, March 8, women worldwide will celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. These women celebrate women’s successes and all their political, social and economic achievements. This global event is meant to connect all the women around the world and to highlight the inequalities that need redressing.

Yemen is going to celebrate it too and join the global events that will take place on such an occasion. However, this year and particularly at this time, things are different here. Despite all the challenges that it faces, Yemen lives in a historical and critical moment.

The Yemeni people are on alert as the wind of change has swept from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen. Like other Middle Eastern countries, young people are the fuel of these new revolutions. Protests in Yemen (in Sana’a, Taiz, Aden and other Yemeni cities) become semi-daily and protesters’ camps occupy squares in those main cities. Killing and injuring protesters has darkened Yemeni lives but also pushed them to continue protesting.

In such an atmosphere, there is not much to say about March 8 and the desire to celebrate it becomes even less. In Yemen at present, people have stopped talking about pressing issues like illiteracy, poverty, unemployment or terrorism. The people, old and young, talk about change and how to topple Saleh’s regime. I wanted to collect some voices on the occasion of International Women’s Day, but all they wanted to talk about was “revolution” and “ousting the current regime”. One of my male colleagues ridiculously commented "what about having International MAN Day"!

In fact, I do not remember when Yemen started to celebrate International Women’s Day, but I have attended a number of these celebrations over the past few years. I do still remember last year’s celebration. It was a big conference in which women from all walks of life in Yemen came and participated. A number of papers were presented. Most of the papers were gender-based, addressing issues like inequality in political, social and economic life. I met a number of extraordinary and pioneering Yemeni women. On March 8 2010, I met Jennifer from the German embassy to whom I introduced SAVE Yemen and who then introduced SAVE Yemen to Yemen Gender Network and other activities. Jennifer has just left Yemen but on such an occasion I cannot forget such a wonderful woman, who is not a Yemeni, but she has given a lot of her time and effort to lift up the status of Yemeni women. Such women make us, Yemeni women, feel connected with other women globally.

"This International Women's Day, we should go to any village in Yemen and live one day with those hard-working women, honor them and show them some appreciation."

However, despite the advantages of celebrating the March 8, it saddens me that the majority of disadvantaged Yemeni women are left out. It saddens me that in these events, I just see those few educated and elite women. This is not representative of the majority of Yemeni women.

In Yemen the majority of women are illiterate and live in rural areas where they are less connected with media and information sources. Those women won't celebrate the March 8. They have simply never heard about this day, so it is meaningless to them. Actually many Yemeni women would be surprised to know that some countries observe the March 8 as a national holiday.

I feel deeply sad, not because of the meaninglessness of March 8 for most of Yemeni women, but for the hardships they still live in. These women are vulnerable because they are deprived of proper education, of access to health services, of economic independence, and of political and social empowerment.

I was talking to one of my friends who happened to be in Abyan (a Southern Yemeni governorate) where she met local women. Those who follow Yemeni news will know Abyan as a place where a number of terrorist incidents took place. I was really shocked to hear from her how the illiteracy of those women was exploited. The women were providing the terrorists with food and shelters without knowing their bad intentions. The women were simply told that they were guests, and as such they had to give them hospitality (hospitality to the guest is a must and a feature of Yemeni culture. It would be an insult if a guest received no hospitality). Those women live with guilt after knowing they hosted the killers and attackers. "I cannot believe I have indirectly taken part in killing innocent people. I will live with this guilt forever. We are simple illiterate women; we do not know how to differentiate between the terrorist and the innocent. We do not have a clue and nobody has advised us," one of those women explained.

Looking at such a tragic story, it re-enforces the importance of working with mothers. A global initiative that SAVE began last year under the Mothers for Change! campaign calls for counter-terrorism initiatives to work closely with mothers.

Finally, apart from holding conferences, workshops and similar events on International Women’s Day, I wish to celebrate it differently and do something concrete for women who are in need of support and empowerment. For example, if we could just go to any village in Yemen and live one day with those hard-working women, honor them and show them some appreciation.

I just wish on the day of 8th of March that we could connect the Yemeni women with their sisters around the globe - every Yemeni woman would wait for such a day impatiently. Will this day come?

SAVE Indonesia: Celebrating mothers on International Women's Day

A statement from Lily Zakiyah Munir, SAVE Indonesia coordinator

Women are pillars of the Nation; if they are good, so is the Nation;
If they are bad, so is the Nation.

The above saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has inspired Indonesian women to engage in a movement to promote peace. Through the Mothers for Change! Campaign, Indonesian women envision to nurture peace in society starting with the smallest social unit, our family. We believe that women and mothers are the first school for children, through whom peace values are implanted and nourished.

As change agents for peace, women should undoubtedly be peaceful individuals themselves. They would not be able to radiate peace to others if within themselves there are seeds of anger, frustration, or hatred. They should let go all burdens and negative feelings and come out as forgiving and positive-thinking personalities. Through participatory, reflective sessions of our Mothers for Change! workshop, this was made possible. In the quiet time, where there was no disturbance or interference, women contemplate and communicate with their inner hearts. Slowly and quietly, they unveiled problems encountering them in life. Story telling was an effective method to share problems with others, and peaceful minds will be achieved as a result.

Hearing the stories of these mothers for change, I was amazed by their strength and resilience to endure the hardship. Their problems were varied from economic, violence, discrimination, to multiple burdens, polygamy and insulting treatments. Nature seems to have given women extra powers, physical and emotional, to resist patriarchy’s unjust and discriminatory attitudes to women. It is unfair and unjust to let the situation remain unchanged. Mothers for Change! Campaign has been launched in Indonesia in response to an ardent desire for a peaceful society where women, men, and children co-exist peacefully in an equal and mutually supporting gender relation.

To commemorate the International Women’s Day 2011, it is timely that we rekindle the spirit for gender equality and justice as reflected in Indonesia’s constitution and in international conventions and declarations. This vision will not be achieved without support and participation of other segments of society especially men. The hierarchical gender relation should be replaced with a more just egalitarian relation. Power should be newly defined to mean sharing and empowering, and not dominating or oppressing. Cultural taboos and stereotypes inhibiting women from making progress in the public sphere should be removed. Roles and responsibilities should be equitably shared, to end the multiple burdens saddled on women. Only then can the Prophet Muhammad’s saying above be materialized, i.e. a good nation with the contribution of half of its population, the women. Happy Women’s Day 2011.

SAVE Sisters Celebrate International Women's Day

Women without Borders / SAVE has gathered the voices of women from around the world to celebrate the occasion of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. The below statements remind us of the strength and commitment of our sisters around the globe.

Edit Schlaffer, Executive Director of Women without Borders / SAVE
We are looking back on 100 years of global women’s commitment to making the world a better place for everyone - for women, men and children. It has certainly been an uphill struggle and our journey is not yet over. Women have shaped the most important movement of the 20th Century, changing the way we live together in families, in communities, and in the public arena. Women have proven that they carry a lot of moral authority- corruption is at its lowest levels when women are involved in decision making bodies, good governance is more often executed when women are walking the halls of power, and civil society led by women is challenging despotic regimes. This global female energy will contribute to positive change. Women without Borders is proud to be a part of these exciting developments.

Today we announce the new SAVE Witness Project, which puts a face to the tragic aftermath of terrorist attacks. The project will create a network of eyewitnesses who provide the young generation with alternative role models. These witnesses will share their stories to promote reconciliation rather than revenge. SAVE Global is creating new pathways for the young generation to gain access to testimonials of the consequences of terrorism, in order to expose them to the reality of the dangers of extremist ideologies. Women as mothers, educators, journalists, and activists will lead the way for this SAVE Global Counter-Extremism Education Campaign. Rather than implementing an educational campaign years after the occurrences, the SAVE Witness project seeks to act swiftly and comprehensively at the height of the threat of terrorist activities around the globe.

We wish you a happy International Women’s Day, and congratulate you for taking a stand, both in your own life and for the advancement of the women around you. Let us not forget: the personal is political!

Nadia Al-Saqqaf, SAVE Yemen member and editor of the Yemen Times
During my work as a journalist and activist I have come across so many stories of women in Yemen whose lives could have been much better had they known that they had alternatives. “I did not know who to turn to”, “I did not think that I had a choice”, “I was too weak to object”, “I was told that my opinion did not matter” are a few of many statements I hear over and over again. These women needed to feel that they are not alone in their ordeal and that they have the right to better treatment, support and a dignified life. Unfortunately during conflict, women and children are always the most vulnerable. They are the first to be sacrificed and the ones hit hardest by tragedies. But they are also the ones who put the pieces together and find strength to reconstruct families and societies in the aftermath of disaster. Tapping into women as a resource of strength for any society is a sure plan for progress and stability. Today, Yemen is going through political instability as the tide for change sweeps across the region. Surprisingly it is a number of women who, alongside men, are leading this change. Yet as always, politics is made by men and victories are negotiated by men. It is in such times that we need to pay close attention to the women of the society and involve them in the decisions that will shape the future of the country. We need to empower women and involve them in decision making so that they feel that they have an alternative and that their opinions matter.

May de Silva, SAVE Northern Ireland member and Director of Women into Politics
On the 100th anniversary of the launch of International Women’s day it is important that we recognize that millions of women worldwide are still being discriminated and disadvantaged though war and conflict. I hope that through our partnership working with Women without Borders-SAVE, we can work towards including women as agents of change just as our sisters achieved 100 years ago. In Northern Ireland we continue to support the women through education and awareness raising sessions so that the ethos survives for decades to come.

Archana Kapoor, SAVE India coordinator
Indian women are articulate, argumentative and empowered. Their voice is being heard and respected both at home as well as in the Indian Parliament. Increasingly, they are at the vanguard of civil society movements demanding justice for their sisters and others. Whether it is in Kashmir or the conflict ridden areas of northeast, it is they who suffer the most when blood is spilled on the streets or their sons are killed. It is important that the voices of our sisters in different parts of the country get louder and stronger, that they are heard. It is important that women believe in themselves and realize that they can make a difference in the way peace is negotiated. Women have to join forces and come out on the streets to fight atrocities, be it in Kashmir or Cairo! It is time to get into the driver’s seat. SAVE India is helping women do just this and more. It is helping women realize their potential to make a difference both at home and outside.

On this International Women's Day, I would like to congratulate all those women who showed the courage to raise their voices against the tyrant rulers in the Arab world. I do hope that soon SAVE’s efforts will be able to throw out those who promote extremist ideologies and spread fear through acts of terror.

Siham Abu Awwad, SAVE Palestine member
The woman that can deal with her pain can deal with anything. I believe as a woman, a mother and a sister that I have the power to change the situation through my humanity and my strength. I believe in my voice. My voice can reach everywhere, demanding a safe future for my kids and my nation through me as a woman. Just believe in yourself.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS