a rare move last year, Saudi women were permitted to watch a football match in
Riyadh in October last year. | Photo
Fandom Is Still Not a Level Playing Field For Women In Saudi And Iran
Indonesian Women Campaigning To 'Uninstall Feminism' and Oppose Anti-Sexual
War on the Hijab Drives Muslim Women into the Shadows
Hijab-Wearing Model Calls On Brands to Better Represent Muslim Women
in the Law
Saudi Women to Be Employed In Driving Schools
Arabia’s Housing Goals Need Empowered Women
by New Age Islam News Bureau
Women Are All That Remain Of A Once-Thriving Jewish Community In Cairo
In 1971, Egyptian daily newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm published a story by
journalist Abdel Wahab Mursi about Cairo’s “Jewish Alley,” and how it had
changed during successive migrations by Jews from Egypt.
pointed out that the name is misleading and that this “alley” was in fact an
entire neighborhood which, at the time of his report, was home to about 25,000
people. However, only 18 of them were Jewish, all of them elderly or widows.
The rest were Muslims and Copts.
Jews who did not sell their property during the time of immigration never
allowed others to live in the houses they left,” wrote Mursi. He also writes
about a number of synagogues, including one called Rab Ishmael at 13th
Al-Sakkia Street. Another, called Moses Ben Maymon and also known as Hermban,
at 15th Dar Mahmoud had collapsed suddenly on the first day of Ramadan in 1970.
Other temples mentioned in his story include Al-Torkeya, Al-Istaz, Rab
HayiinQabous, Ram Zamra and Al-Yahoud Al-Feda’eya.
50 years after the story was published, much has changed in Jewish Alley. Most
notably, the entire Jewish community in Egypt, led by Magda Shehata Harun, now
numbers six women, according to a statement they issued in 2016 following the
death of one of their number, Lucy Sawel. As for the synagogues, all but one —
the Adli Temple in Downtown Cairo — have vanished or become derelict ruins.
the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the outbreak of war
between Jews and Arabs had a distinctive impact on the role of the Jewish
community in Egypt,” said Egyptian historian and writer Mohammed Abul Ghar.
Most of the Jews liquidated their businesses and property and migrated to
Europe, America or Israel.”
was once host to the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. It was
influential and involved in various aspects of Egyptian society. Although there
are no accurate census figures, the Jewish population of the country was
estimated to be between 75,000 and 80,000 in 1922, but had fallen to fewer than
100 by 2004.
its peak, it included Arabic-speaking, Rabbinic and Karaite Jews, along with
Sephardic Jews who had come to Egypt after they were expelled from Spain. In
addition, trade flourished after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869,
attracting Ashkenazi Jews fleeing massacres in Europe. As a result, Egypt
became a safe haven for Jews, who congregated in Jewish Alley and established a
commercial and cultural elite. It would not last, however.
the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt’s president from 1954 until 1970), the
conflict between Egypt and Israel increased dramatically,” said Abul Ghar.
“From the moment the State of Israel was established and invited Jews from all
over the world to immigrate to it, Muslims started burning well-known shops
owned by Jews, such as Chicoril and Ads.
Israeli espionage networks, the members of which were Egyptian Jews, were
discovered. In the 1980s, after Egypt’s victory in the October 1973
Arab-Israeli war, some attempts to emigrate to Egypt by a few families were
made. However, according to the Egyptian constitution, after someone acquires
Israeli nationality he is stripped of Egyptian citizenship and so faces
rejection of all applications for emigration.”
the days when the Jewish community was thriving in Egypt, Abul Ghar said that
wealthy Jews monopolized certain fields of commerce, including “Mosa Dubik,”
“Marco E’nteibe” and “Jalabaj.” They traded in scrap and toys, while “Mizrahi”
and “Mozaki” organized textile auctions in Al-Mahalla Al-Kubra city.
Alley, meanwhile, was not very hospitable to non-Jews. Hajji Abdul Latif Fawzi,
an 82-year-old former assistant secretary at a medical center, said that when
he went there one day at the age of 10 he was hit in the eye with a stone that
had been thrown at him. The Jewish residents prevented any outsider from
entering their neighborhood except for the few Egyptians who worked with them
in workshops and textile shops.
said when he entered the alley, he heard someone saying “Joey ... Joey.” This
was a word used to describe “someone who is not Jewish” though he did not know
this at the time. Then a group of young men rushed toward him and attacked.
the 1950s things began to change gradually in the neighborhood, as Jews started
emigrating to Israel,” he added.
weeks ahead of a potentially game-changing women’s World Cup, football remains
completely male-dominated in large parts of West Asia and North Africa, where
female fans are still battling for a level playing field.
fans face obstacles in many parts of the region where rival powers Iran and
Saudi Arabia have traditionally enforced rules banning women from entering
countries from the region will be among the 24 teams taking part in the
tournament in France from June 7, but at least there are signs of flexibility
in the region toward a sport igniting more and more female interest across the
Iran, rules have been relaxed since the 1979 Islamic revolution and women are
selectively allowed to attend some matches.
the fact that a ban has yet to be officially lifted indicates there is still
disagreement over the issue among senior figures in the Islamic republic.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia allowed women into a football stadium for the
first time in January 2018 for a regular domestic football league match.
move was part of reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that
included allowing women to drive and take part in other sporting and artistic
the kingdom’s strict brand of Islam still mandates separation of the sexes in
public and women football fans are only admitted to special sections of
stadiums and must wear full Islamic veils. Even so 15,000 women, penned in
special sections, were among the 62,000 fans who attended the Italian Super Cup
between Juventus and AC Milan played in Jeddah in January.
banning women from football games in Iran were introduced by religious leaders
concerned about public morals and the risk to women of unwanted attention from
men in the crush to enter and leave the stadiums.
have been made: a handful of Irish women became the first females permitted to
watch a match in Islamic Iran when they were allowed to attend a 2001 World Cup
qualifier between a visiting Ireland team and the hosts.
recently 850 Iranian women were allowed to attend the Asian Champions league
final between Iran’s Persepolis FC and Kashima Antlers of Japan.
women had to show up two hours ahead of kick-off, entering well before the men
and going to their own separate section of the stadium.
limited number of women were also permitted to watch Iran’s men’s games in the
2018 World Cup on a giant screen erected in the capital, Tehran.
Cup in France
as women’s football is expected to draw huge attendances at the World Cup in
France, Iranian women still face challenges with their attendance at matches
a handful of women were allowed to watch a match between Iran and Bolivia in
October, Iran’s prosecutor general Mohammad Javad Montazeri said permitting
women to watch men in shorts was “a sin”.
from Saudi Arabia and Iran, no other country in the region actively bans women
from attending football matches but female football followers are generally in
Tunisia has actively encouraged women fans by offering them free tickets to
international matches while more Moroccan women are also watching the sport
refer to feminism as "poison". They ridicule the LGBT community.
Tanpa Feminis or Indonesia Without Feminists — a campaign started just before
the country's April 17 elections — recently went viral for its opposition to
feminism as a supposed Western import incompatible with Islamic values.
rejection of feminism is based on the assertion that "my body is not mine,
but rather Allah's" and has sparked public debate over the role of women
in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.
Without Feminists' slogan #UninstallFeminism reflects a growing, tech-savvy
ultra-conservative movement that appeals to millennials with memes and
graphics, that more mainstream, moderate organisations have failed to emulate.
we're talking about anti-feminism, that's not new," said Dr Dina Afrianty,
a research fellow at La Trobe University.
is new — argues violence against women campaigner Yuni Asrianty — is
anti-feminists' clever use of digital platforms and policy advocacy to push
their puritanical and conservative ideas.
experts have highlighted recently that the movement also signals a marked shift
towards women becoming more involved in explicitly anti-feminist activities.
Without Feminists has gained several thousand followers through its social
media platforms since its creation three months ago.
is also associated with other established conservative social movements
including Indonesia Without Dating, where memes and merchandise promoting
chastity have attracted almost 1 million followers.
movement [Indonesia Without Dating] was indeed initiated by young people for
young people," Dyah Ayu Kartika, a researcher for the Jakarta-based Centre
for the Study of Religion and Democracy (PUSAD Paramadina), told the ABC.
have become increasingly mobilised by hard-line Islamic groups and political
parties in Indonesia.
recent report from the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict
argued the mass movement against former Jakarta governor Basuki
"Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama had "activated women's political agency
along conservative lines".
campaigners believe] mothers must mobilise against Jokowi in order to protect
their children from un-Godly communism, homosexuality and other moral threats
associated with Jokowi's camp," the report said.
recently, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's opponent Prabowo Subianto
and the Gerindra Party mobilised female volunteers in a bid to unseat Mr Widodo
in the elections.
Australian medical anthropologist Linda Rae Bennett, the Indonesia Without
Feminists movement and other women-led conservative activism is a response to a
proposed anti-sexual violence bill.
the bill would outlaw marital rape.
parties in Parliament have expressed support for the legislation, except for
the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
Bennett described new anti-feminist activism as a "proxy war" against
the law backed by powerful male figures, who would stand to lose their right to
have sex with their wives whenever they like.
Azizah Nur Tamhid, a female candidate for PKS, appears to have secured another
seat for the party in the recent Indonesian elections, which saw the party's
women's activists remain optimistic that the law will be passed eventually,
pointing to a number of victories for women's rights, including the country's
landmark anti-domestic violence law of 2004.
news this week, that the French senate has passed a law banning mothers from
accompanying their children on school trips while wearing a headscarf, reminded
many that mercy - even during the most sacred of Islamic months dedicated to
just that - is not something often afforded to Muslims these days.
are only half way into the fasting month and Ramadhan has already been soured
with daily headlines of growing state and street-level Islamophobia. The right,
it seems, views each day as a new opportunity to target some of the most
oppressed sections of European society: Muslim women.
Republicans party in France demonstrated just that by proposing an extension to
the existing restrictions on religious clothing. The party explicitly stated
that this law "prohibits the wearing of the veil during school
trips". Leaving no wiggle-room for those who may have used the now tired
excuse that it will impact all faith and non-faith groups since the text refers
to, "conspicuous religious symbols".
vote passed through the upper house of the national assembly with 186 votes in
favour, 100 against and 156 abstentions.
development in the increasing marginalisation of Muslim women at the hands of
the French state may be of little surprise to many - especially the targeted
community itself. Both the right and left of the country, from political
parties, to writers, journalists, public figures and even artists, have not
ceased to wage war on the hijab and burqa for the last 15 years.
first ban on the veil was introduced in 2004 by then president, Jacques Chirac
and applied to all schools and colleges in France. The law which was said to
have been sparked by 9/11, was voted in through the national assembly with an
passed by a right wing government, the controversy was in fact sparked by two
teachers, both members of radical socialists organisations, who campaigned to
exclude two hijab-wearing students from their school.
years that followed were dominated by a discourse laid out by former French
president Nicholas Sarkozy, that "France is a country in which the Burqa
does not belong", so it came as no surprise when a ban on face veils (ie.
the burqa) in all public spaces, was introduced in 2011.
violation of this law would lead to a fine of $168 and possibly the need to
undergo a form of citizenship re-education programme. Because in the eyes of
the French government, having any desire to wear the burqa is in direct
contradiction with the aggressively secular (read racist) collective national
identity that must be upheld and internalised, in order to access any basic
rights in France.
it 2016, it was the burkini that the state went after. Prime Minister Manuel
Valls stated that they were an "affirmation of political Islam in the
other words, Muslim women live openly among us and they must be driven back
into the shadows. So for example, when the 2011 ban was enforced, and Muslim
women protested outside of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, over 60 of the
demonstrators were arrested. By 2015 alone, over 1,600 police stops related to
the ban had been made, and 1,546 fines issued.
what is strikingly recurrent in all these laws has been the organised desire,
from all corners of the political spectrum, to drive Muslim women out of the
universities, public services, and even beaches or swimming pools have all
become battle grounds over access to and control over public space. In the name
of "liberating" women from their so-called patriarchal religious
oppression, the state is pushing Muslim women into the home and out of active
political and social life.
reality, the anti-Muslim hatred enshrined in the political practices of the
republic have existed since its colonisation of Muslim-majority lands - and
Algeria in particular.
women's choice of outward religious expression was both used to reinforce the
otherness of the former colonies, and as an excuse to strip them of any
women were imagined as in need of saving by the Republic, which then served as
a useful justification for colonisation and its "civilising mission".
Public veil burnings became one of the potent symbols of exactly that process
of violent oppression masquerading as liberation.
is clear that the French political establishment is hell-bent on continuing its
long racist history of targeting Muslims, particularly those who are visibly
so, because they remind them that the reality of the country is a
fast-changing, racially diverse one. The empire is coming home to roost.
the France may have pioneered institutionalising gendered Islamophobia by being
the first country to implement a ban on the face veil, it is not the only
country enforcing such policies.
already has had the Anti-Face-Covering Act - aka burqa ban - in place since
2017 when the coalition of the country's Social Democrats and conservative
Austrian People's Party sought to outdo the far-right Freedom Party after their
almost victorious presidential campaign.
burqa, which was worn by around 150 women in a country of around 8.7 million,
was said to have been a hindrance to an "open society". The
government introduced a law forbidding the hijab in schools altogether, just
last week. Similar laws on face veils and burqas exist in Denmark, regions in
Italy as well as Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
current struggle is thus one over the outcome of 70 years of post-colonial
migration as well as women's rights. Just as colonialism fought its war on the
bodies of women in the Global South - an ongoing theme in contemporary western
interventions in the Middle East - the same is true of the state's assault on
people of colour at home.
is through the policing of women's places in the public sphere that the broader
exclusion of black and brown populations is being organised. Our cheap labour
remains welcome, but it should remain hidden from sight. A battle which,
judging by our central role in social movements, sports, popular culture, or
intellectual production, has already been truly lost.
first hijab-wearing model has called on brands to better represent Muslim
Rostom, who founded Facebook group Surviving Hijab, told the Wacl Gather
conference in London yesterday (23 May) that she called out Nike in 2014 for
not featuring "any women that looked like us".
said: "The women looked hot in shorts with a ponytail bobbing side to
side. There was no representation of Muslim women, so I emailed them."
sending the email, Nike has released performance headwear – which she modelled
– in an attempt to normalise depictions of women wearing hijabs in sports.
explained that "even competitors" are slowly embracing diversity and
driving change, highlighting Adidas, Apple, H&M and Gap for their latest
think we are doing great, but we need more brands to come on board so that we
aren't having this conversation any more," Rostom said. "We need to
stop turning heads on the street. We still have so much work to do to switch
the narrative around the world.
sorry but if you bump into my hijab, what's going to happen? It’s not going to
explode, it’s not going to bomb the room. So I really feel like there needs to
be an open conversation, with sports federations, about how people can really
embrace all faiths and cultures to embrace all athletes."
added that sports organisations also need to better cater to Muslim women:
"I feel like all these federations and sports authorities need to have an
open conversation about what can they do to welcome more faith into
speaking at the event was trans activist Charlie Craggs, who echoed the lack of
representation of the diversity of women. She said: "It wasn’t until I saw
Nadia [Almada] on Big Brother that I saw myself in the media and thought:
only saw trans being laughed at on Jeremy Kyle or dead on the news. We were
punchlines or punching bags."
the state of women’s rights in India is no mean feat, as struggles for gender
equality have been fought for centuries, and are not likely to conclude even in
the course of the coming 50 years. It is, however, critical to periodically
reflect on how those tasked with upholding women’s rights in the largest
democracy in the world are shaping these struggles. Recent years leading up to
2019 witnessed the judiciary, both high courts as well as the Supreme Court,
engaging with arguably controversial issues, especially those lying at the
intersection of non-discrimination and religious freedoms, and on most
occasions, taking a view to aid uplifting the state of women’s rights in the
Bombay High Court’s decision dated 26 August 2016 (the “Haji Ali” case),
allowing women to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali dargah, was in
some ways the first of the many progressive judgments that the judiciary has
been hailed for in the recent years (Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Others v State
of Maharashtra and Others 2016). The Bombay High Court opined that the Haji Ali
Dargah Trust was a public charitable trust, open to all public. Once a public
character is attached to a place of worship, the court held, fundamental rights
under Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (prohibition of
discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and
Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation
of religion) of the Constitution would come into play. The court found the
practice of disallowing women from entering into the sanctum sanctorum to be a
violation of the above-mentioned fundamental rights. While the Haji Ali Dargah
Trust appealed against the decision in the Supreme Court, they soon conceded
a subsequent decision dated 22 August 2017 (the “triple talaq” case), the
Supreme Court struck down the practice of talaq-e-biddat, more commonly known
as triple talaq, for being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution which
requires laws to be reasonable and non-arbitrary (Shayara Bano v Union of India
and Others 2017). The Court held the practice to be manifestly arbitrary as it
is instant and irrevocable, and leaves no room for reconciliation between the
husband and wife, allowing a man to whimsically end a marital tie. The verdict
was celebrated widely as it concluded countless Muslim women’s struggle against
the oppressive practice which had for long been considered “good in law though
bad in theology” (Shayara Bano v Union of India and Others 2017; Wire 2017).
the subsequent decision dated 28 September 2018 (the “Sabarimala” case) as
well, the Supreme Court found the temple’s practice of disallowing women of
menstrual age as being violative of their fundamental right under Article 25
which “equally” entitles everyone to freely practise religion (Indian Young
Lawyers Association and Others v The State of Kerala and Others 2018). The
Court further held that the right under Article 25 has nothing to do with
gender or certain physiological factors specifically attributable to women, and
is equally available to both men and women of all age groups. Justice D Y
Chandrachud even went so far as to liken the practice to untouchability (which
is expressly prohibited under Article 17 of the Constitution), due to notions
of “purity and pollution” associated with menstruation.
obvious commonality in these cases was that they tested the boundaries of the
constitutional protection for religious freedom. Also critical to the court’s
analysis in each of these cases was the long established test of whether the
impugned practices were an “essential” or “integral part” of the religion in
question (Commissioner of Police and Others v Acharya Jagadishwarananda
Avadhuta and Others 2004). This was relevant as any constitutional protection
of religious freedoms of those in support of the impugned practices is limited
to aspects which are essential or integral to the religion, such that the
absence of the practice in question would alter the very nature of the
religion. In each of the cases, therefore, the finding that the practice in
question was not an essential or integral part of the religion was an important
Jihad’ and Adultery Case
the famous case of Hadiya (formerly Akhila Ashokan), which came to be known as
the “love jihad” case, the Supreme Court went to great lengths to uphold the
decision of a 24-year-old woman to convert to Islam and marry a man of her
choosing (Shafin Jahan v Asokhan K M and Others 2018). The Court sharply
criticised the paternalistic approach taken by the Kerala High Court when
declaring her marriage with a Muslim man as null and void. The Court noted that
constitutional freedoms of an individual could not be made subservient to
patriarchal social mores, as had been done by the high court when rendering a
decision in favour of the petitioner (Hadiya’s father). The high court’s
approach, it appears, was motivated by the growing fear around “love jihad,”
which right-wing forces allege is being practised in several states, including
Kerala, even though no evidence supporting any such practice has been found
a decision dated 27 September 2018 (the “Adultery” case), where the
constitutionality of substantive and procedural provisions relating to adultery
was challenged, the Court found the provisions unconstitutional (Joseph Shine v
Union of India 2018). The Court also went to great lengths to highlight that in
the garb of protectionism, the impugned provisions led to the subordination of
women, reflecting an evolving understanding of gender justice. It found that
instead of punishing the act itself, the impugned provision punished the
propriety interest of a married man in his wife. Further, the Court also
emphasised on sexual autonomy of a woman, regardless of marital status, being a
constitutionally guaranteed freedom.
is no doubt that the judiciary has, through these decisions, set laudable
precedents for gender justice in India. However, the judicial approach in
deciding these cases is not entirely free from criticism. Although the Supreme
Court’s decisions in the Triple Talaq and Sabarimala cases were principally in
favour of women, a closer reading of the judgments reveals that the Court’s
findings were based on grounds other than the fact that the impugned practices
treated women (or certain women) as inferior citizens.
the triple talaq case, for instance, the Court’s rationale for finding the
practice unconstitutional was that it was manifestly arbitrary and illogical,
and hence violative of Article 14. The Court did not express clear views on
whether the practice discriminates against women on grounds of sex, while
giving only men the right to avail of triple talaq. In the Sabarimala case too,
a majority of the judges shied away from opining on whether the practice was in
violation of Articles 14 and 15, but rather focused their attention on the
right to religious freedom, under Article 25, of women aged between 10 and 50
the fact that the petitioners in the cases raised arguments on the basis of
Articles 14 and 15, the majority refrained from expressing any clear views on
the same. One may argue that the Supreme Court’s approach may have been a
strategic one, trying to uphold women’s rights without ruffling too many
feathers or opening floodgates for gender discrimination litigation. However,
shying away from opining on the implication of the impugned practices vis-à-vis
Articles 14 and 15 exposes the judgments to being read selectively, and
somewhat curtails their usefulness in supporting future litigants in their
challenges against discriminatory practices, particularly in non-religious
another pattern that emerges from the above verdicts is the judges’ inclination
to render separate opinions when giving their decisions. This approach becomes
problematic in cases where even though a majority of the judges arrive at a
common conclusion, they arrive at the said conclusion using different
rationales. In the triple talaq case, for instance, the Court held the impugned
practice to be unconstitutional by a slim majority of three out of five judges.
A detailed reading of the opinions of the three judges, arguably the “majority
opinion,” shows that the judges hardly spoke in a common voice when
invalidating triple talaq. While Justice R F Nariman and Justice Uday Umesh
Lalit found the practice to be unconstitutional for being manifestly arbitrary
and therefore violating Article 14, Justice Kurian Joseph focused on how an
Islamic practice, which is contrary to the Quran, could not enjoy
constitutional protection (Mandal 2017; Shayara Bano v Union of India and
Others 2017). Similar patterns highlighting lack of consistency in the
principles applied in opinions that together constitute the “majority opinion”
can also be found in the Sabarimala case and the Adultery case.
the concern here with absence of a single voice may seem only for argument’s
sake at first, it has wider implications. The judges’ inability to speak in one
voice becomes critical when one attempts to distil the ratio decidendi (the
reasoning which forms the basis of a particular decision). The ratio decidendi
is the principle that a case establishes, and comprises the precedent which
lower courts, and indeed smaller benches of the same court, are bound to follow
when deciding future cases with similar facts or issues.
judges’ tendency in the above cases to resort to varying rationales to arrive
at the same conclusion makes it difficult to understand what principles have
been laid down by the court. This lack of clear principles is likely to, in
turn, make it challenging for future litigants to place reliance on these
landmark decisions in pursuing their legal battles against discriminatory
Facets of Law
it is certainly worth celebrating the largely consistent progressive approach
taken by the judiciary, it is worth noting that Supreme Court judgments are
merely one source of “law” in the country. Worth equal (arguably, more)
attention are the initiatives, both legislative and otherwise, taken by
governments in championing the cause of women’s rights. Further, it is of
utmost importance that the judiciary’s positive contributions to the women’s
rights discourse are not conflated with those of the incumbent government,
given that not only does the judiciary operate separately from the government,
but in most cases those who challenge legislative provisions on constitutional
grounds are adversaries to governments.1
a thorough analysis of the incumbent government’s performance on gender issues
is outside the scope of this article, it is worth noting that the criticisms
are not few. While some have faulted the Modi government for not delivering
adequately on any of its promises on women’s rights and safety in its 2014
manifesto, others have levelled more specific criticisms on the implementation
of particular government initiatives aimed at enhancing gender equality in the
country (Johari 2019; Menon 2019; Rath 2018).
relevance to the discussion is also the Modi government’s emphasis on Muslim
Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017. One of the most consistent
legislative efforts by government on “gender issues,” the bill was introduced
and passed in the Lok Sabha on 28 December 2017, months after the Supreme Court
verdict on triple talaq. Lack of adequate support in the Rajya Sabha to make it
a law led the government to promulgate (more than once) the bill as an ordinance
(PRS 2019). Given the polarised political landscape in India, however, it comes
as no surprise that the repeated re-promulgation of the ordinance has attracted
sharp criticism from various quarters for being less about women’s rights
(which, arguably, already stood protected after the Supreme Court verdict) and
more about punishing Muslim men (Das 2019; Rajgopal 2018).
is no doubt that the courts’ recent decisions have helped women in the country
in their fight to establish a truly equal status for themselves. By calling out
oppressive practices and striking them down for treating women as subordinate
citizens, the courts have indeed paved the way for future legal challenges
against discriminatory practices, whether in the context of women’s religious
freedoms or otherwise. It is, however, important to not lose sight of the
larger picture. The National Crime Records Bureau continue to reveal shockingly
high rates of crimes against women, and a recent poll deemed India to be the world’s
most unsafe country for women (NCRB 2016; Thomson Reuters Foundation 2018).
Despite developments in law, therefore, the ground reality leaves much to be
desired. One can only hope that a better place for women in the law will in due
course result in a better reality for women in all spheres.
The Union of India’s stance in the Triple Talaq case, however, was unusual. The
dissenting opinion, it appears, even relied on the Union of India’s support for
the petitioner’s cause when exercising its extraordinary powers under Article
142 of the Constitution, in essence ordering the legislature to look into the
matter in a time-bound manner. See Shayara Bano v Union of India (2016).
Krishna N (2019): “India’s Congress to Scrap Law Punishing Muslim Men for
Instant Divorce if Voted Back to Power,” Reuters, 7 February,
Aarefa (2019): “BJP 2014 Manifesto Check: How Much Has the Modi Government Done
for Women’s Empowerment?,” Scroll.in, 26 March,
Saptarshi (2017): “Triple Talaq Judgment and the Continuing Confusion about the
Constitutional Status of Personal Law,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol
52, No 35,
Aditya (2019): “Truth of ‘Beti Bhachao Beti Padhao’: 56% Funds Spent on
Publicity,” Bloomberg Quint, 22 January,
(2016): “Crime in India 2016: Statistics,” National Crime Records Bureau,
(2019): “The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance, 2019,”
PRS Legislative Research,
Krishnadas (2016): “Haji Ali Dargah to Allow Entry of Women,” Hindu, 24
(2018): “Triple Talaq Ordinance Brought by Govt to ‘Punish Muslim Husbands’:
Jamiathul to SC,” Hindu, 25 September,
Basant (2018): “It’s Important to Make India’s Police Force More Welcoming for
Women,” Wire, 29 January, https://thewire.in/gender/india-police-gender-women.
(2017): “Supreme Court’s Triple Talaq Order Welcomes by Activists, Muslim
Personal Board,” 22 August,
(2018): “NIA Finds No Evidence of ‘Love Jihad’ after Kerala Probe,” 18 October,
Reuters Foundation (2018): “Thomas Reuters Foundation Annual Poll; The World’s
Most Dangerous Countries for Women: 2018,” https://poll2018.trust.org/.
of Police and Others v Acharya Jagadishwarananda Avadhuta and Others (2004):
Appeal (Civil) 6230 of 1990, Supreme Court judgment dated 11 March.
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— The Ministry of Labor and Social Development has joined hands with Tatweer
Education Holding Company (THC) and Human Resources Development Fund (HADAF) to
create jobs for 9,000 Saudi women in the driving school sector over the period
of three years, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.
Minister of Labor and Social Development Abdullah Abuthonain signed a
memorandum of cooperation with Osama Al-Haizan, CEO of THC, and Juma Hamed,
deputy director general of the Training Support Sector of HADAF, in this
memorandum aims to create around 900 new job opportunities by 2022 through the
establishment and operation of eight women driving schools in 2019 in the
cities of Hail, Arar, Najran, Jazan, Makkah, Madinah, Al Jouf and Abha.
General Traffic Department has authorized THC to build and operate driving
schools in these eight cities following the government’s historic decision to
allow women to drive in Sept. 2017. Accordingly, THC has drawn up plans to hire
Saudi women to fill up all the positions at these schools. THC is a state-owned
company managed by a board representing the ministries of finance and education
as well as representatives of the private sector.
memorandum reflects the principle of sustainable partnership seeking to realize
the aspirations of the leadership through the cooperation of the government and
the private sectors in line with the objectives of the National Transformation
Program 2020 and long-term goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
Saudi women who obtained their driving licenses abroad are among the
instructors at a number of driving schools established in various parts of the
Kingdom. Women, aged 18 and above, are qualified to apply for a driving
year ago, much of the conversation about women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia
centered on the government’s decision to let them drive. Other well-publicized
reforms since then have opened up opportunities for women in the military and
aviation, as well as access to previously proscribed or restricted spaces, like
sports stadiums and music concerts.
away from the headlines and photo-ops, Saudi women are also being empowered by
gender-neutral policy changes. One example: the government’s aim to increase
home ownership among citizens to 70% by 2030.
essential requirement to reaching this goal is the growth of the mortgage
industry, giving more young people—women as well as men—the opportunity to buy
their first homes. Another is the acceleration of women’s employment: more
working women will greatly expand the demand for mortgages among women looking
to buy homes, either on their own or as part of dual-income families.
overall employment among Saudis has not significantly improved over the past
two years, more women are entering the workforce—albeit from a low
base—reaching 20.2% in 2018, from 19.4% in 2017. Consumer credit is expanding,
too. Credit to households has more than doubled in the past 10 years, from about
$40 billion to nearly $92 billion as of September 2018.
long as these trends continue, everybody wins. In addition to increasing the
economic inclusion of women, the expansion of mortgage finance will also boost
growth in the kingdom’s financial sector, by creating more profit opportunities
for banks—they have already welcomed the prospect of women applying for loans
to buy their own cars—which in turn will make them attractive to investors
seeking listed Saudi firms. Tadawul-listed banks that seize the mortgage-market
potential will benefit from Saudi Arabia’s recent inclusion in emerging-market
ownership in Saudi Arabia currently rivals rates in the U.S. and in Turkey, the
kingdom’s regional peer. Some 60% of Saudis own their homes, which equals the
proportion in Turkey, and is slightly below that of the U.S. As in most
economies, more older Saudis own homes than younger people: 39% of young adults
under the age 35, compared with 50% of those between 35 and 44, according to
research by HSBC.
the high ownership rates, there’s plenty of potential for growth. Unlike in the
U.S., access to mortgages and other financial products is scarce in Saudi
Arabia. According to a report on financial inclusion by the King Khalid
Foundation, nearly seven million Saudis don’t have bank accounts; women make up
60% of the “unbanked” population. Rapid urbanization and the movement of more
young people into cities increases the demand for housing stock.
are a large part of that demographic change. An increase of one percentage
point to the Saudi workforce every year would add about 70,000 more women a
year to the labor market. This would increase the demand for new products to
improve financial mobility. HSBC projects the growth in female employment has
the potential to generate $33 billion in new mortgage loans, or 40% of the
first-time buyer demand, either as independent purchases (Saudi women have long
had the right to property) or by their contribution to household income.
trends coincide neatly with new banking policy changes that are encouraging
banks to extend more housing loans. The Saudi central bank has twice extended
loan-to-value limits in the past two years. In the first quarter of 2017, the
maximum ratio was extended from 70% to 85%; in January 2018, up to 90%. The
government has also introduced support for low-income and first-time buyers
through its Real Estate Development Fund (REDF) as a subsidy for both
debt-service costs and principal payments. Unsurprisingly, the government is
predicting anticipating a spike in investments in the housing sector.
social policy and state development objectives align with market opportunity,
change can come quickly. For Saudi women, that could be as meaningful as some
of the higher-profile changes they’ve seen over the past year.
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