Women take the lead in the Nobel Peace Prize

The SCEME team was overjoyed by the annoucnements of this year’s Nobel Prize Winners. They are amazing and brave women who have overcome huge challenges to promote values of peace and equality. In particular, we would like to give a shout-out to Tawakul Karman  – who helped raise the voices of Arab women across the world.


David Cameron to Push for the Rights of Arab Women

British Prime Minister, David Cameron has confirmed that during his upcoming appearance at the U.N General Assembly in New York, he will stress the vital need for the development and implementation of women’s rights across the Arab world.
UK Prime Minister, David Cameron
A statement that came from No.10 Downing Street on Wednesday morning, showed the PM’s forthright attitude to the cause – “Let’s be honest, it’s not just the men of the region who want a job and a voice – the unemployment rate for Egyptian women is more than three times that for men.”
His statement went on to acknowledge the significant and crucial role that women played during uprisings in Egypt, “look at the crowds in Freedom Square and we see it’s the women too finding their voices, showing clearly that they want to play a part in building their future.”
Cameron stressed the important need for women to have a more valuable role in society “In this historic period, when the voice of this region is finally being heard, there is now a unique opportunity for women to fulfill their ambitions too.”
The PM also emphasized that it is absolutely impossible to develop “strong and open societies” without the inclusion of women.
At a time, when women across the Arab world are being pushed out of new constitutions, SCEME welcomes the sentiments of the Prime Minister and hopes that his words materialize into something more substantial on the ground. 


Breaking the Taboos of Breast Cancer

Rima Dandachi, Head of the May Jallad Foundation with SCEME’S Jessica Sarhan
At present, breast cancer is the leading cancer among women in Lebanon and constitutes 21% of all cancer cases. However, despite relentless awareness campaigns taking place throughout Lebanon and the Arab world, there still exists a culture of shame surrounding breast cancer, especially in rural communities. Rima Dandachi, President of the May Jallad Foundation, explained that this stigma is part of a difficult cultural mentality; “People just don’t talk about it. They used to call it The C Disease or The Other Disease, they couldn’t even mention it.” Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure urged that whilst the U.S faced a culture of shame and silence regarding breast cancer thirty years ago, “this problem is still a very grave and intricate one in the Middle East.”On asking breast-cancer patients if they would be confortable speaking about their experience, many declined, insisting that they did not want their neighbors to know of their illness. One woman refused to speak publically as she had not yet told her mother that she had breast cancer.

If detected at the early stages, breast cancer survival rates are as high as 98%, however, vast numbers of women continue to live in fear of admission of their illness anddo not seek help until the later stages of the disease when it becomes fatal. Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan, an advocate of breast cancer awareness in the Arab World, explained that women are failing to open up about their disease for “fear of being ostracized by their society and even sometimes their own families. They decide instead to avoid or delay diagnosis or treatment with the inevitably tragic consequences for the woman and her entire family”.  

On asked why she feels this taboo exists, Anne Frangie, President of Faire Face, a Lebanese organization that sets out to raise awareness and funds towards breast cancer, explained that; “There is a fear of mastectomy. Women feel that there will be no future for them without breasts. I think women in Lebanon and the Arab world are especially afraid that if they lose their breasts, maybe their husbands will not want them or will divorce them. And for young women, it is the fear that they will never get married.” Tragically, Dandachi concurred, stating that divorce is incredibly common amongst couples where the woman is a breast cancer sufferer.

In addition to cultural stigma, women continue to be reluctant to get treatment due to the severe financial burden that comes with breast cancer. The costs of cancer treatment, which can go on for years, are staggering. “It is an expensive disease, with an expensive and long treatment. Even in remission, you still have to take your medicine. It’s a big burden, emotionally and financially,” urges Dandachi.  

Whilst the Ministry of Health does cover up to 85% of treatment costs, patients are expected to pay the remaining 10-15%, which can still be thousands of dollars, leaving women from impoverished backgrounds unable to fund themselves through their illness. “There are so many associations and NGO’s here in Lebanon, that work towards prevention and awareness but nobody is really working for those who already have the disease” explains Dandachi, “I have seen so many families forced to sell their cars and they take their children out of school – the way people are pushed into poverty by paying for cancer-treatment is unacceptable.” This is why the May Jallad foundation is committed to helping with the costs of treatment and work closely with the Makassed Hospital to ensure that patients get the care they need.  

There remains the issue of myths surrounding mammograms. In 2006 it was reported that 71% of women over the age of 35 in Lebanon have never had a mammogram despite the recommended bi-annual check-up for all women over 40. Women remain under the false impression that mammograms are painful and many are simply in denial – scared to know the reality of whether they have the disease or not.“Though most women recognize the importance of early breast cancer detection, the vast majority are still reluctant to get a mammogram for various reasons including fear or difficulties in accessing a center” explained Dr. Salim Adib, a leading epidemiologist andmanager of public health at the Health Authority in Abu Dhabi.

However, despite these setbacks movements are being made towards breaking taboos and the death rate from breast cancer in women has been gradually decreasing since 1990.  “This mentality is changing,” insists Dandachi. “It’s changing because people are accepting the facts and becoming more open about breast cancer.”

Faire Face prides itself on its Mobile Mammogramprogram. Organized by the Lion’s club and funded by Faire Face, this program allows a vehicle, containing all the necessary equipment to conduct a mammogram, to travel around rural parts of Lebanon and provide women with free-check-ups and almost immediate results. It has proved incredibly popular, with women from the most remote communities eager to make use of its facilities. In addition to this, Faire Face is continually organizing conferences and visits to medical centers where oncologists are committed to showing women the benefits of early detection and break the myths surrounding mammograms.

“The results are more and more encouraging,” explains Frangie, “because of television, the internet and the campaign, a dialogue is being created about breast cancer. Women who have breast cancer are now talking about their experiences and how important early detection is. So things are changing.”

In October, The Ministry of Health will commence a three month program that will provide half price mammograms in private hospitals and free ones in governmental hospitals throughout Lebanon.  Hopefully with movements such as these, Lebanon and the Arab world can strive towards a society where breast cancer is free from any social stigma. 

You can check out the Faire Face Website: http://www.fairefacecancer.org.lb/ And the May Jallad Foundation: http://mayjalladfoundation.com/

Bahraini Doctors Jailed for Treating Protestors

Bahrain – A group of approximately twenty medical staff from Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Center have been arrested for treating protestors during a wave of uprisings in the state. A collection of doctors and nurses were sentenced by a military court, which accused them of aiding protestors, stealing medical supplies, using ambulances to carry weapons and violently occupying the hospital.
Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Center 
The medical staff involved in the case have branded these accusations as “completely false” and that any punishment of them is simply unwarranted. “During the times of unrest in Bahrain, we honored our medical oath to treat the wounded and save lives. And as a result, we are being rewarded with unjust and harsh sentences, ” read a statement issued by the doctors.  
One victim of these accusations is Dr. Fatima, who urged during an interview on the BBC World Service, that she had remained loyal to her medical duties by treating everyone, regardless of their political leanings. However, Bahraini officials have refused to hear her plea and she has been sentenced to 5 years in prison, forcing her to say goodbye to her 3 year-old son.
New allegations have suggested that medical staff experienced severe torture whilst in detainment. Dr. Fatima explained that she was threatened with rape on numerous occasions, whilst the psychological torture that she received was deeply distressing.
Surgeon Dr. Ghassan Dhaif and his wife Dr. Zarhra Al Sammak are two more doctors who have been sentenced to imprisonment by Bahrain’s military court. Dr. Dhaif told Sky News in an interview that the interrogations they suffered were “carried out under severe torture” and included “kicks, using sticks, using a plastic hose, using plastic bottles, using shoes” as a means of intimidation and injury.  In addition to this, Dr. Zarhra, explained how the couple were blindfolded and forced to sign illegitimate confessions.
On Saturday, medical staff in Bahrain sent an appeal to the U.N in the hopes of an investigation into the brutal behavior of Bahraini authorities.  A representative from the U.N Human Right’s Office, Rupert Colville, explained that there were “severe concerns” regarding the treatment of medical staff and that the issue needed to be examined further.
Bahrain’s maltreatment of doctors has ignited a wave of international criticism on social networking sites. The Journal of Medicine has said that “no one should be imprisoned for treating another human being” whilst one Twitter user named patrickcullen01 said that he is “absolutely disgusted that medics doing their jobs are facing up to 15 years” imprisonment.
We hope that the international pressure being placed on Bahrain will allow the safe and secure release of medical staff and that they may carry on their vital and invaluable work in the country.


Women in Saudi Arabia gain The Right to Vote

Huge movements have been made in Saudi Arabia as women have now been given the right to vote and partake in municipal elections. King Abdullah’s announcement on state T.V explained that women would be able to nominate candidates for the next set municipal elections taking place in the Kingdom.
The move has been celebrated by women’s rights groups throughout the Kingdom, Activist Wajeha Al-Hawaida was reported by CNN as saying: “We welcome Saudi King Abdullah’s announcement today that women will serve as full members of the Shura Council in the next session, and will have the right to participate in future elections…these reforms recognize the significant contributions women in Saudi Arabia make to their society and will offer them new ways to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and communities.”
This new legislation is being seen as a huge move towards gender-equality in Saudi Arabia, with the White House issuing a statement that said “We welcome Saudi King Abdullah’s announcement today that women will serve as full members of the Shura Council in the next session, and will have the right to participate in future elections.”
TIME magazine reported on Hatoon Al-Fassi, a University Lecturer and Women’s Right’s Activist who was thrilled by the recent announcement saying, “I haven’t been able to take my breath…We’re so excited. We believe it’s the response to our demands, the first step in our long struggle to get our rights.”
Given that women in Saudi Arabia have been struggling in the fight towards gender-equality for so long, this announcement comes as a huge step-forward for change in the Kingdom. Many women activists feel that they can now use this development as a platform for gaining other rights such as the right to drive. Facebook and Twitter enthusiasts in the country have been showing their joy at this news, saying that it is “a new day for Saudi Arabian Women.”

We hope that this will give women a chance to continue to voice their opinions and fight the battle against gender-inequality. 


New Moroccan Constitution makes changes to promote Gender Equality

Moroccan Women gather at a conference in Marrakesh 

The June 2011 Moroccan Constitution outlined a series of new reforms centred around the promotion of good governance, freedom of speech and the importance of gender-equality. Previously women’s issues had gone unnoticed in the country, having little or no place in Morocco’s legislation. However, these new reforms are taking groups that have historically been ignored and ‘placing them at the forefront of the country’s politics’ explains Fatima Sadiqi of the Kaleej Times.
Morocco’s Berber population has also been fighting for their rights – demanding that Berber be recognised as an official language alongside Arabic.  ‘The fate of women has been closely tied to the fate of the Berber population throughout Morocco’s history’ said Sadiqi. The past couple of months have seen an active unification of both Berber and Women’s Rights groups in Morocco who have joined forces as a means of promoting change within their communities.
The new constitution aims to promote women’s rights by giving them more control over their lives. It is actively encouraging the creation of women’s organisations in addition to providing women with more solid legal rights in the areas of divorce and child custody. Whilst in theory these moves are all incredibly positive, what is important now is their practical imposition. Communities will have to work together to ensure that these new laws are enforced and not merely words on a document.
A Berber women in her home
Sadly, Morocco has one the highest rates of female illiteracy in the MENA region – this has automatically put women in a disadvantaged position. There still the remains the issue of the cultural expectations of women, and in order for these reforms to work, society will have to quickly shift its practises on gender inequality.  Many women living in Morocco’s most rural communities are unable to gain access to any form of media outlet and are unsure of what rights they actually possess. In order for these reforms to work, more focus needs to be placed upon improving literacy rates among women as well creating a situation where the media can reach those even in the most rural of settings. Education is undoubtedly the quickest road to change.  

Tackling Lebanon’s Discriminatory Citizenship Laws

This report from Aljazeera may be a couple of years old but, unfortunately, Lebanon’s citizenship laws have not changed. The nationality law  in 2011 dictates that women who are married to foreigners cannot pass on their Lebanese citizenship to their children (they must be widowed to do so). However, a Lebanese man who marries a foreigner may pass on his nationality to his children and wife. The result is that children with Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers continue to be viewed as immigrants by the state. They are denied all access to public schools and hospitals and are unable to work without costly residents permits that have to continually be renewed. Women’s rights groups such as The Lebanese Council of Women, continue to push for change on this disturbing act of gender-inequality that spans across numerous countries in the MENA region. What is important now is that an active dialogue is created as a means of putting pressure on those who enforce this unjust and distressing legislation.

Shoura Council Recommends that Saudi women should have the right to vote

Jeddah – The Shoura Council in Saudi Arabia has now suggested that women in the Kingdom should be given the right to vote. The recommendation came as a surprise to many who now eagerly wait to see if this will materialize into something more substantial for women in the Kingdom.

The recommendation, which has now been sent to King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz for approval, is a significant advancement for women in Saudi Arabia and a hopeful sign that Saudi’s electoral future is moving away from the harsh and distressing aspects of gender inequality that it continues to practice. Unfortunately, this recommendation does not allow for women to stand for election. However, it is a historic and important movement in “conveying the pulse of the Saudi street and the people’s desire for women to be allowed to participate in the municipal council elections,” explained Dr. Abdulrahman al-Enad of the Shoura Council to Alsharq Alowsat earlier this week.

Sadly, Saudi women who have fought for their right to vote were not greeted warmly when they appeared at election polls. Reports from Muslim Media Watch explained that they were met with a wave of insults and violent abuse. 
Women in Saudi Arabia face some of the worst examples of gender-inequality in the modern world, yet they continue to speak out against these inequalities and hope that increased pressure may urge King Abdullah to turn this recommendation for women’s suffrage into a reality.

Qatar Launches Project to Raise Awareness of Human Trafficking

A research project has recently been launched by the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking (QFCHT) as a means of raising public awareness about human trafficking within the country. The organization works in association with the UN office of Drugs and Crime and has been implemented as a means of understanding the extent to which human trafficking continues to take place in the region.

QFCHT plans to use the information developed from this project to support further campaigns to prevent human trafficking, not only within Qatar but in the entire MENA region. Over the past year, Qatar has come under increasing criticism for failing to successfully deal with this growing problem. However, the organization urged that this report will give them a much better understanding of the present situation and allow them to move forward in their campaign. “It is necessary to begin the initiative with accurate information about the understanding of the real meaning of human trafficking,” said one spokesperson.

The QFCHT, which is made up of numerous volunteers that work in both English and Arabic, explained that the progress of the report will move quickly and results will be published by the end of 2011. The organization will work with the Qatari House for Lodging and Human Care in order to create polices that can directly tackle issues of human trafficking as well as develop more practical solutions such as training projects, conferences and support groups. This report will certainly act as a stepping stone in creating a dialogue about human trafficking in the MENA region and hopefully will show some promising results within the New Year.


U.A.E makes Progress in allowing Women to have more Political Involvement

New Reports from the U.A.E have stated that there are record numbers of women now applying for seats on the Federal National Council – The country’s legislative body. 
Out of the 469 candidates, 85 are women. Whilst this may seem a small number at first, it is a huge sign that things in the Emirates are moving forward and women are slowly gaining their place in the country’s political system.

The Emirates have not been directly affected but the widespread protests that have moved across the region, however, they have made significant developments and reforms over the last year. There has been a push for women to be more politically involved and they now make up 46% of the electorate. Anwar Mohammad Garhash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs showed his happiness in the rising numbers of with the results so far.

However, some female activists have been unsure about these latest developments. Whilst they are excited at the prospect of more female council representatives, the fact that the council does not have any actual legislative power means that women in any law-making process. “Female political participation is a relatively new phenomenon in the Gulf Arab states,” explained once source. The past UAE election saw only 1 woman elected to the FNC.

However, the movement is a positive step forward and the Emirates have proven itself to be on the road to breaking the gender inequality in the political sphere. Sadly may Gulf countries still remain headstrong on their views towards gender inequality as Saudi Arabia announced that no women will be allowed to run or vote in any of the Kingdom’s future elections.