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Women In The Middle East Fight To Boost Their Status And Human Rights

Women’s rights advocates in the Middle East are fighting to end “honor” killings, polygamy, and repressive marriage laws. Men convicted of “honor” crimes, frequently glorified rather than condemned, sometimes serve less than three months in jail. Asma Khader, a woman lawyer in Jordan, recounts a litany of horrific cases that she has studied; in one familiar situation, a man shot his sister to death when he learned that she had been raped. The killing, he says, was necessary to preserve family honor. Khader is one of the leaders in a movement to abolish article 340 of Jordan’s penal code, which allows judges to consider reduced sentences for so-called honor killings.

Coalitions of women’s rights and human rights organizations in the Middle East also aim to reform marriage law. Polygamy, though not a widespread practice, continues to exist in some regions. The Moroccan government proposed reforms that include banning polygamy, raising the minimum age of marriage from 14 to 18, and giving women equal inheritance rights. The Supreme Council on Family Affairs in Qatar may grant women more rights in divorce and inheritance disputes. In Iran, where fathers can marry off daughters as young as the age of nine, the Parliament is debating a bill, introduced on August 9th, that could possibly raise the marriage age of women to 18.

Despite these promising reforms, discrimination and rigid interpretations and distortions of Islamic principles continue to endure, often condoning polygamy and violence against women. Recently, a Turkish state-funded religious foundation published a book stating that men can beat their wives as long as they avoid the face and do not strike too hard. In his book, The Muslim’s Handbook, Kemal Guran states that polygamy is acceptable if the wife is ill and the man cannot afford a servant. “I am outraged that such a book was published with state funds – with money women paid in taxes,” said Zuhal Kilic, the head of Kader, a group which promotes women in politics. The Muslim’s Handbook is yet another addition to the genre of wifebeating books that have infuriated the public; in July women’s rights advocates in Spain sued imam Mohamed Kamal Mostafa, a prominent Muslim cleric, for inciting violence in his book Women in Islam, which offered men tips on how to beat their wives effectively.

Media Resources: Guardian Unlimited ( 10 August 2000, New York Times ( 10 August 2000, Four-part series in Christian Science Monitor ( 10 August 2000

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