A few words on Palestine’s Christians

Santa gives gifts to a Christian family in Bethlehem

With the words ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’ often taken to be synonymous with ‘Jews’ and ‘Muslims’ in our media, it’s easy to forget that Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus, has been home to a large and vibrant Christian community, with its rich religious and spiritual traditions, since the founding of the faith.

Palestinian Christians are often the descendants of some of the oldest Christian communities in the world; and their diversity is clear with Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Copts, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Maronites and other Protestant denominations worshiping in Palestine alongside the Greek Orthodox majority.

However today it is thought that only 2.4% of the population of Palestine are Christian.  This is not, as some commentators have attempted to argue, the result of Islamic Fundamentalism, or Christians being forced out of their homeland as a result of the pressures imposed on them by their Muslim neighbours. Rather, in many respects Palestine shines as the region’s beacon of harmony between Muslims and Christians. 

This year, as every year, Christians will gather for Christmas Eve Mass at St. Catherine Church which sits next to the Church of Nativity and which encloses the very spot on which Jesus is believed to have been born. Local parishioners will gather alongside Christian pilgrims and will be joined as well by some of their Muslim brothers and sisters to celebrate the birth of Christ and to pray for peace in the Holy Land. 
As the world’s media centres on the holy town this Christmas Eve, Bethlehem will once again serve as a beacon of light and signal of Muslim-Christian tolerance amidst a troubled conflict. 
Original Source: One Community Many Voices Blog. Reproduced by permission of our friend and supporter, Faith Matters

A Letter from the Team

To our Friends, Partners, and Supporters and to each of you who we may not yet have met, we’d like to wish you a relaxing and meaningful festive season and a Happy New Year!
2012 has been a fantastic and beautifully busy year for us. We have been working hard to contribute towards the creation of an environment in which gender equality, freedom and social justice are not a dream but a reality. Spurred on by your help, advice, commitment and good will, we’ve continued in our efforts to raise awareness and spur action to tackle the trafficking and exploitation of women and girls across the region. We’ve been able to work with some of the most inspiring of young women, who remain committed to their education and that of their children in some of the most difficult of circumstances. We’re so encouraged to see these young mothers blossom and feel honoured to have been able to have played a small part in supporting them to realise their own brilliance.
2013 is a year of new challenges and new opportunities. We look forward to continuing our work to provide the most basic of education to young women across the Middle East and North Africa; and with your support are preparing to roll out our programme of work to enable young refugees to access effective and sensitive sexual and reproductive healthcare and education. With the support of some of the most committed and incredible volunteers across the world, we are still striving to shine a light on the realities of trafficking across the region and look forward to releasing further research pieces and resources for activists and organisations throughout the year. We’re also full of excitement for our programme of upcoming youth exchanges to facilitate active youth participation, beginning with our work to connect youth from Algeria and the United Kingdom this Spring.
Your support means the world to us. Thank you for being on this journey with us, we look forward to many more years of action to protect and promote the rights of women and young people, refugees and migrants, and those from impoverished backgrounds throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
We wish you a 2013 filled with peace, joy, and meaning, 
With all of our best wishes,
The Team at SCEME

Some reflections on the realities of life for UAE’s migrant workers

Today is International Migrants Day, an occasion celebrated on 18th December each year to mark the UN’s adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Membersof Their Families. There are an estimated 20 million migrant workers in the Middle East and North Africa; and in the UAE, an estimated 70% – 90% of the total population are immigrants, with more than 30,000 women and girls enter the UAE for the purposes of securing employment in hotels or as domestic workers or secretaries.
While many of the UAE’s migrant workers go on to secure six figure salaries; life for the 450,000 domestic workers and 500,000 construction workers can be very different. Construction workers, many of whom are migrant workers originating from South Asia, often live on no more than $120 a month, working 12 hour days and 6 day working weeks while subsisting in substandard and cramped conditions on a diet of the cheapest ingredients available, such as lentils and bread. Domestic workers secure a monthly salary averaging $170, working 7 days a week between 16 and 21 hours a day.  Many domestic workers subsist on one meal a day of leftovers or other food deemed no longer edible by the hosting family and an estimated quarter are not provided with a bedroom in which to sleep.

The “Kafala” or “sponsorship” system is used to monitor the construction and domestic migrant workers in the Arab Gulf States as well as in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan. This system means that expatriate workers can only enter, work, and leave those countries with the assistance or explicit permission of their sponsor or employer, who is a local in the country. The employer (or “Kafile”) is responsible for their visa and legal status.

This Kafala system has been widely criticised for creating easy opportunities for the exploitation of workers, as many employers take away passports and abuse their workers with little chance of legal repercussions, despite the legislations that are supposedly in place. Many migrant workers become, in effect, slaves. Frequency of movement, insufficient legislation and harmful practices, such as the Kafala system, have also contributed towards the establishment of the UAE as a destination for sex tourism.

While producing our preliminary research on the sex trafficking of Iraqi women and girls we came across the case of 16 year old Husn.  Following her mother’s death, her father agreed to sell her for $6,000 to work as domestic worker for a family in Dubai for one year, believing she would be returned at the end of the contract. In fact, upon being taken to Dubai, Husn’s virginity was sold to a local man and she was imprisoned with 20 other young girls, all of whom were forced to engage in prostitution.

Husn’s case is heart-breaking, but it is not the only one. Upon arrival into the UAE, many vulnerable women and girls have their passports taken from them by those who have organised their passage, and face forced prostitution and bonded labour to repay their travel expenses. We have uncovered a shocking host of anecdotal evidence suggesting that in addition to migrants entering the GCC states legally, as many as half of all women illegally trafficked into Dubai are forced into prostitution. With no passport, and a justice system that favours the sponsor, those who manage to escape their captors are likely to face a prison sentence themselves and have even been referred to as ‘threats to national security’ by government officials.

The situation for many of the region’s domestic workers, construction workers and vulnerable migrants and refugees can often seem hopeless, but there is a way to move forward. Jordan is in many respects a beacon state for the protection of migrant workers, and can offer a model for change in the GCC states.  Migrant domestic workers have the right to medical care, life insurance, improved working conditions including rest days and the guarantee of repatriation at the end of their contract.  Once excluded from labour laws, Jordan’s migrant worker’s rights are to a much greater extent protected both by domestic legislation and by Jordan’s ratification of numerous international conventions. We must work with ministries, such as those of the UAE, to take the good from Jordan and encourage a monumental shift in the treatment of the UAE’s workers.


On Human Rights Day…

Each year on Human Rights Day, advocates for human rights across the world focus on one central theme. Today, our attentions turn to the rights of all to be included in the political life of their countries, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Recent times have been marked by individuals coming together in the pursuance of these rights across the MENA region. The uprisings that begun in Tunisia following the self-immolation of 26 year old Mohamed Bouazizi and which cascaded most notably to Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria brought with them new hope of achieving a successful – if prolonged – transition towards democracy.
In the Gulf, these uprisings have been restricted for the most part to Bahrain. Demonstrations of discontent have been kept to a drastically smaller scale on the East Coast ‘Qatif’ region of Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait, which has seen some resurgence in anti-government protests, particularly in response to a ban on protests.

This weekend, as we were preparing to celebrate Human Rights Day 2012, HH Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, the Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister, addressed an audience at the Eighth International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Regional Security Summit. His Highness asserted that the Persian Gulf states ‘cannot tolerate instability’ that could lead to challenges to the Western-allied leaders from Kuwait to Oman.  His comments echo calls by Gulf authorities to widen crackdowns on perceived opposition and seek to justify last year’s intervention in Bahrain, the Gulf’s main flashpoint, to quash the uprising of the kingdom’s Shiite-led majority.

It is now a little over a year since Bahrain issued a sweeping ban on all public gatherings and rallies; with the Interior Minister announcing that such gatherings are associated with violence, rioting and attacks on public and private property.  He said that the ban would continue until “security is maintained” and suggested that one of his main concerns was the fact the rallies expressed opposition to the government and ruling family.

With the increasing tension in Bahrain, the unleashing of repression by the authorities, and incidents of violence on both sides of the divide, Bahrain is at a cross roads, and many fear that the Bahraini citizens are no closer to enjoying full and equal access to their political rights.

On Human Rights Day, our attention turns to some of the core freedoms outlined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we urge the Kingdom of Bahrain to award these, the most basic and fundamental rights, to its people.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


Without putting gender equality at the heart of policy there will be no change

In the SCEME office, we’re often consumed by passionate discussions about the importance of continuing our work to promote women’s participation in society. Not just because women’s participation is an absolutely fundamental right – because it is – but because this is the only way to secure a better future for all. This week, Trust Law Women hosted a ground-breaking conference to put the rule of law behind women’s rights. Noting the importance of tackling global discrimination of women, Monique Villa opened the two day event by reminding men and women from the legal, financial, government, corporate and non-profit sectors that:

empowering women helps tackle the very roots of poverty’.

And it’s true.

  • We consistently see that when female education rises, infant and child mortality fall, while the overall health of all within the family improves.
  • When countries experience an increase in a girl’s participation in secondary education, this is matched by an increase in women’s participation in the labour force – and an increase in household and national income.
  • When women have leadership roles within the corporate sector, we see the results – improved business performance.
  • Countries with more women in parliament tend to have more equitable laws, social programmes and budgets that advance not only women, but their families and children

In short, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that enhancing women’s participation improves the economies of their countries, increases their family income, boosts their children’s standard of living and increases the possibility that their daughters will benefit from secondary and further education, thereby securing better lives for their own future families.

Great strides have been made towards the empowerment of women and their families in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Primary school enrolment is high or universal in most MENA states; the gender gaps in secondary school enrolment have already disappeared in several countries and women are also more likely to attend university than previously. However, despite these improvements, most MENA states are still much more likely to have lower levels of women’s education and labour force participation than other regions with similar income level.

Efforts to improve the participation of women and girls in Middle Eastern and North African societies needs to move past roundtable discussions, rhetoric and discussions over coffee at high level conferences. We need real social programmes and governments need to take real action. Only by putting women’s empowerment and gender equality at the heart of all government policies can the region we are so committed to begin to see the change it deserves.

 by Sarah Barnes (Project Manager)

Are you looking to volunteer in London? Join our team!

We are recruiting two volunteer interns for our London office:

Social Media and Communications Intern
Research Intern

Both internships will last between 3 and 6 months in length (negotiable). Ideally, you would be able to commit two days per week; though we are flexible and more than happy to discuss this with you.

Required Skills and Qualities 

  • Interest in the Middle East and North Africa 
  • Interest in our work strands and programmes. In addition, the Research Intern should have a particular interest in contributing to our research on domestic violence and trafficking in the MENA regon.
  • Be comfortable with using social media (Twitter and Facebook in particular). This is especially the case for those interested in the Social Media and Communications position
  • Commitment to our vision and mission.
  • Strong written communication skills (English). 
  • The ability to communicate in Arabic is by no means essential, but may offer an advantage.

As a volunteer-led organisation, we’re committed to our volunteer interns and to helping them achieve their own goals. Whether you are looking to donate some time, or hoping to gain new experiences and skills to boost your own capacity, then we will work with you to help you explore the avenues that interest you most.

For more information, or to apply (with a CV and covering letter), please contact Sarah via email by 14th December 2012.


To grow up a Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon

Growing up can be hard anywhere in the world, but growing up a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon can be even harder.

Young girls in the Shatila camp, Beirut

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are denied fair and equal access to the state education system. With the cost of funding a child’s place in a private school being one of the highest in the region and Palestinian refugees being some of the most disadvantaged and deprived in the region, Palestinian children rely on UNRWA and non-profit organisations for the provision of both primary and secondary education.
Every child should be awarded the right to access an education that inspires and fully equips him or her to leave school as a young adult with the confidence and means to participate fully in social, economic, religious, cultural and political life.

Yet, for many of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees, more than two thirds of whom are living in severe poverty, the prospects they face can be less than inspiring. The employment restrictions to which they will be subjected when they grow up will leave many wholly dependent on UNRWA both as a main relief provider and main employer. Unemployment rates for refugees are therefore staggering. Consequently, many young people, despairing at their future prospects, perceive education to be irrelevant. Commitment to one’s own education is therefore very often low, whilst drop-out rates are high.

If young boys drop out from school they most often seek employment in the form of unskilled temporary manual labour in order to support their families. One third of the Palestinian workforce does enter into some form of vocational training which awards them marketable skills and the prospect of securing employment in the tertiary sector. For a small group, approximately 12%, this is obtained through formal education. However, for the majority this is delivered by non-profits or obtained on the job. Extensive studies and anecdotal evidence show that vocational training or university education can help refugees secure more, and better, jobs. We estimate that around half of young people aged 16 – 18 are presently enrolled in some form of vocational and technical training, however crude such training may be; while the demand is much higher.

While for many boys it is the socio-economic conditions he faces, and the feeling of obligation to work to support his family that sees him drop out at a young age; many girls fail to complete their education due to early marriage – and their average age at marriage has been decreasing in recent years. Troublingly, many young people have overall poor emotional well-being and engage in risky behaviours, with one young person out of four feeling unable to resist peer pressure. Great social pressure is exerted, particularly on girls, to correspond to specific models and peer and youth-adult relationships suffer from conflict, misunderstanding and miscommunication. Young people are also vulnerable to abuse, and victims are frequently blamed. With vivid memories of violence imposed on their families, and in the face of poor socio-economic prospects and ill health, conflict as well as physical and verbal aggression, is sadly widespread amongst young people in the camps. Worryingly, a quarter of young people approve of violence and domestic violence in certain circumstances; a finding which correlates to the high and increasing prevalence of violence against women and children.

With the violence permeating Syria displacing increasing numbers of Palestinian refugees once more and forcing them into illegal status in Lebanon; we can only ask when the world will begin to offer rights to those who are most in need.

by Sarah Barnes (Project Manager, SCEME)


A Facebook Uprising, Facebook Campaign Goes Viral

In the beginning of October, the Facebook page The Uprising of Women in the Arab World (founded in October 2011) launched a campaign in support of women in the Arab world. They state:

“Time for women and men to unite against the oppression of women in the Arab world. To say no to violence against women, no to their allegiance to men, no to repression and abuse, no to their treatment as second class citizens. We demand the full application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Arab women just as for men”.

As of today, hundreds of men and women, young and old from all over the world have been sending in pictures of themselves holding signs that have messages of support for women in the Arab world, demanding equality, the right to veil or not veil, the right for a mother to pass nationality to her children and LGBT rights to name a few.  Some images have been a little controversial, such as messages written on a female body, to messages by women wearing a face veil has garnered attention.

The campaign has been a huge success and is ongoing. The page now has over 55,000 likes.


We Are All Malala

by Tamara Albanna

On Tuesday October 9th, Taliban gunmen stopped a vehicle carrying girls home from school; they called out the name Malala Yousafzai and opened fire, shooting the fourteen-year-old girl in the head and injuring two of her classmates.
As Nicholas Kristof wrote in his piece for the New York Times, Malala’s only “crime” was that she loved school.  She fought for the right of girls to go to school in the city of Swat Valley, located in Northwest Pakistan.  At the age of eleven, Malala wrote an online diary published by the BBC at the time when the Taliban issued an order demanding that all girls’ schools be shutdown. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, kept his school open despite the threats.   
In 2011, Malala was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and that same year she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.
Malala, only a child, stood up to the Taliban when politicians could not, she has captured the hearts of so many across the globe.  As she fights for her life, we all must take up her cause, stand with her and fight for the fundamental right of education for all girls, everywhere.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 Provides a Framework for Progress in Iraq

 by Tamara Albanna
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted on October 31, 2000.  The resolution addresses the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, and most importantly it addresses the need for women’s “equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.” The key provisions of 1325 are:
  • Increased participation and representation of women at all levels of decision-making
  • Attention to specific protection needs of women and girls in conflict
  • Gender perspectives in post-conflict processes
  • Gender perspectives in UN programming, reporting and SC missions
  • Gender perspectives and training in UN peace support operations

This resolution is a complete framework for gender mainstreaming in post-conflict situations.  In a nation such as Iraq, which continually struggles with a desperate security situation and arbitrary violence, 1325 would perhaps be a framework to address the issues facing the struggling country.  The full participation of women at all levels of government is needed in order to ensure security and stability.  Making women a part of the solution, and including more than half of society, rather than marginalizing them, would provide hope for future rebuilding.
In an interview with Nicola Pratt in January 2011, Sundus Abbas the Director of the Iraqi Women’s Leadership Institute summarized the main reasons behind the violence against Iraqi women and girls as, “prevalent social attitudes, weak political will in regards to addressing violence against women, misinterpretation of religious scriptures, linking culture and tradition to Islam, increasing rates of unemployment, high poverty levels, the lack of shelters, weak legislative framework and lack of political stability and security.”
While quotas for women’s participation were put at no less than twenty-five percent in parliament, this has not helped the situation of women.  Many argue that these female parliamentarians represent Islamist factions and are not acting out of concern for women’s rights.  The Minister for Women’s Affairs, Abtihal Alzidi, recently stated that men and women were not equal, and that she seeks permission from her husband to leave her home.  She later stated she was misquoted, after an outcry from Iraqi women’s activists.
A country like Syria would benefit from 1325 when the violence stops and a new government has to come together to start the rebuilding process.  The resolution would have also benefitted the women and girls of Libya who also suffered during the uprising to oust Muamar Qaddafi.  Sadly when the weapons are finally laid down in conflict zones, women and girls are immediately marginalized and often (such as Iraq) have their rights taken from them.  In rebuilding a society after a major conflict or the ousting of a dictator, Resolution 1325 would help to ensure lasting peace, equality and fairness.