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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 10    Issue 05-06   16 July - 15 August 2015

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Women’s Participation in Urban Renewal in Bangladesh

Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, has made impressive progress in poverty reduction and human development. The country’s impressive record of poverty reduction and its commendable achievement in social indicators has been made possible by a pragmatic and far-sighted partnership between government agencies and NGOs.

Korail, the biggest slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is home to nearly 200,000 people. Most of the houses in the slum, which is located amid the city’s business district and the penthouses of the rich, are constructed from bamboo frames and corrugated tin roofs. Until very recently, Korail was surrounded by widespread poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and disease, lack of toilets and filth.

Korail is now on the cusp of a refreshing transformation. In 2010 the Bangladesh government launched an ambitious project of urban reconstruction and renewal called the Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction. The funds for the project have been provided by the government, the United Nations Development Programme and British overseas aid. A notable feature of the project is the involvement of local people in the reconstruction of the slum. Under the project, a cluster of 20 households is organized into a “primary group” and representatives from each of these groups form a larger apex body, which is dominated by women. Many of the ideas that animate the project have come from local residents, particularly women. The apex body, in consultation and coordination with local groups, identifies the priorities for intervention and development, fixes responsibilities and chalks out action plans. It also coordinates and negotiates with local authorities for providing civic amenities to the area.

Under the project, many of the roads leading to the slum have been concreted. Drains have been laid out and water supply has vastly improved. Before the launch of the project, residents used a muddy piece of land for open defacation. Now a block of six toilets has been built on the premises and the maintenance of each toilet is assigned to a group of 10 families. Open defacation is invariably associated with water-borne and infectious diseases. After the toilets have been built, the infection rate has been drastically cut.

The residents now have access to health services. A mosque and a school have been built in the area. Under the project, deserving people are offered loans or grants to sharpen their occupational skills, which could help them get a job. The benefits of the project have been tangible. Income levels have gone up and living standards, health and education have substantially improved.

BRAC, an international development organization based in Bangladesh, is the world’s largest non-governmental development organization. Established by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed in 1972 shortly after the country’s independence, BRAC operates in all 64 districts of Bangladesh and has offices in more than a dozen countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Haiti and the Philippines. BRAC’s operations cover more than 126 million people across several countries. It employs more than 100,000 people, 70% of whom are women.

BRAC runs a maternity centre in Korail. In 2007 almost 80 per cent of all deliveries occurred at home, which resulted in a number of maternal and infant deaths due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Doctors at BRAC sought to reduce the number of homebirths in Korail. Some women from the neighbourhood were identified and given basic training by BRAC and instructed to identify pregnant women in the locality. After identifying pregnant women, they paste a poster on the family’s door, giving the telephone number of the maternity centre and asking the family to contact the staff. Community health workers from BRAC then visit the home for ante-natal check-ups. Homebirths in Korail are now down to 11 per cent, with a significant reduction in maternal and infant mortality rates. Bangladesh is on track to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal on maternal mortality.

Under the Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction project, more than 800,000 households have joined community development groups – some 2,500 in number – which are mostly led by women. More than 166,000 households now have access to improved water supply and 143,000 households have access to toilets. More than 88,000 women from extremely poor families have been provided with financial help to set up small-scale businesses. Some 376,000 households now participate in savings and credit groups with savings worth more than $5 million at the end of 2012.

Prince Alwaleed Pledges $32 billion to Charity

Saudi Arabia’s billionaire businessman, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, figures as the 34th richest man in the Forbes’s list of the world’s richest people, with assets worth over $32 billion. He has investments in a number of companies, including Citigroup, Disney, 21st Century Fox, News Corp, Apple, Twitter and Time Warner and a string of luxury hotels in Europe. Prince Alwaleed has donated huge amounts of money to victims of natural disasters and to Western universities for the establishment of centres of research for the study of Islam in the modern world.

Prince Anwaleed bin Talal

During Ramadan this year, Prince Alwaleed announced his decision to donate his entire personal fortune worth $32 billion to charity. He said the money would be used for disaster relief, eradication of disease, promotion of intercultural understanding and women’s empowerment. He said in a statement, “Philanthropy is a personal responsibility, which I embarked upon more than three decades ago and is an intrinsic part of my Islamic faith. With this pledge, I am honouring my life-long commitment to what matters most – helping to build a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world for generations to come.”

Tahirul Qadri’s Anti-Terrorism Curriculum

In the past few years there has been an alarming rise in intolerance, extremism and militancy in a section of Muslim youth, who are on the fringes of Muslim societies. This is manifested in the proliferation of global terrorist networks aimed at carrying out acts of violence and destruction, in the repressive and misguided policies of the Tliban in Afghanistan, in the violence perpetrated by Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, and in the increasingly violent methods adopted by al-Shabab in Somalia, Ansar Deine in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. This extremism is also in evidence in the growing sectarian intolerance, in the tendency to denounce sections of Muslims as falling outside the fold of Islam and in the desecration of Sufi shrines in some parts of the Muslim world.

A large majority of the victims of terrorism and violence carried out by Muslim youth are innocent Muslim civilians, including women and children. Between 2004 and 2013 almost half of all terrorist attacks and 60 per cent of fatalities due to terrorist attacks worldwide took place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the victims were overwhelmingly Muslim. The horrendous acts of violence and wanton killing by a small group of extremist and hardliner Muslims have widened the gulf between Muslims and the rest of the world and fuelled Islamophobic sentiments. Suicide attacks carried out by misguided youths in many parts of the world, in which innocent civilians, including women and children are killed, have heightened the atmosphere of fear and insecurity around the world.

The Al Azhar University in Cairo and Darul Uloom Deoband in India as well as many prominent scholars and institutions of Islamic learning around the world have condemned reckless violence and terrorism -- which are ostensibly legitimated in the name of jihad-- in unequivocal terms. Shortly after the 2005 London bombings, the National Fiqh Council of North America issued a fatwa condemning all forms of extremism and any destruction of property or human life, and specifically called the perpetrators “criminals.” The fatwa stated that it was forbidden for any Muslim to cooperate with individuals or groups involved in violent and terrorist activities and added that it was a part of the religious and civic duty of Muslims to support efforts to protect the lives of all civilians.

Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most prominent and influential Muslim scholars of present times, has unequivocally declared that violence and terrorism and the killing of innocent people is against the principles and teachings of Islam. Extremism and acts of senseless violence and terrorism perpetrated by a small and misguided section of young Muslims have been strongly condemned by Muslims around the world.

A leading Pakistani scholar, Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri issued a fatwa on March 2, 2010, backed by extensive references to Islamic legal principles and precedents and judicial pronouncements, denouncing terrorists as the enemies of Islam. Dr Qadri, the founder of an influential religious and educational organization and a socio-religious movement called Minhajul Quran International, said in his 600-page edict that suicide bombers were destined for hell. Dr Qadri emphatically pointed out that attacks against innocent citizens are “absolutely against the teachings of Islam” and that Islam does not permit such acts under any excuse, pretext or reason.

Dr Qadri has prepared an Islamic curriculum on peace and counterterrorism with a view to deal with the distortion and misrepresentation of Islamic teachings by some misguided Muslims and vested interests. Releasing the 900-page curriculum in Westminster, UK on 23 June, Dr Qadri said, “"In the Islamic legal system, ISIS or any other terror group have absolutely no authority or legitimacy for setting up an 'Islamic State'. It is an armed rebellion against the Muslim states and collective order. ISIS is an enemy of humanity." He urged British Muslims to hold a mass march to publicly demonstrate that they do not “quietly condone” terrorism. The curriculum, prepared in English, Arabic and Urdu, is to be used as a basis for educating and training imams, Islamic preachers and functionaries, teachers and young people.

Shocking Revelation about Ben Ali’s Corrupt Regime

The unprecedented protests and demonstrations across large parts of the Arab world that marked the Arab Spring in 2011 were a manifestation of people’s pent-up anger and resentment over poverty and economic insecurity, rampant corruption and nepotism, despotic rule, high levels of unemployment, widespread human rights abuses and an intimidating security apparatus.

Tunisia’s disgraced former president Ben Ali and his second Wife Leila Trabelsi’s family controlled between 30 and 40 per cent of the country’s economy, amounting to over $10 billion. The assets held by the two families covered all sectors of the economy, including banks, insurance, distribution, transport, property, tourism, television channels and retail businesses. Leila Trabelsi was notorious for her ostentatious lifestyle and profligacy. She often used the President’s 737 Boeing Business Jet to shop at the fashion capitals of Europe like Milan, Paris and Geneva.

The WikiLeaks diplomatic cables have described Tunisia’s ruling family as the nexus of corruption aided and abetted by a mafia-like network. A June 2008 cable from the US embassy in Tunis quotes a report by the Transparency International to the effect that Ben Ali’s family was involved in clandestine dealings in cash, services, land and property. The cables also reported that due to fears of reprisals from the president’s highly influential and resourceful family, many Tunisian investors had to forgo new investments and were forced to keep domestic investment rates low, which added to the high unemployment rate in the country. A report by Global Financial Integrity, a watchdog group, in January 2011 said: “The amount of illegal money lost from Tunisia due to corruption, bribery, kickbacks, trade mispricing and criminal activity between 2000 and 2008 was, on average, over $1 billion a year.”

Faced with massive public protests and demonstrations across the country, Ben Ali fled the country on 11 January 2011 and was given shelter by Saudi Arabia. France’s Le Monde reported in 2011 that Ben Ali and his relatives fled the country with 1.5 tonnes of gold ingots valued at $65 million.

New evidence uncovered by the World Bank in June 2015 has revealed the astonishing magnitude of corruption and tax evasion by firms owned by the family of Ben Ali. World Bank economists have pointed out that Ben Ali’s family had amassed assets worth $13 billion and that as many as 206 companies owned by his family members or close allies defrauded the Tunisian state of between $ 1 billion and 2.6 billion over a seven-year period from 2002 to 2009.

It is interesting to note that Western countries as well as international financial organizations like the IMF and the World Bank have long feted the Tunisian model and heaped praises on its secularism, liberal economic policies and stability, while glossing over the nepotism and corruption of the ruling dispensation, suppression of human rights and civil liberties and lack of democratic, transparent governance. The US, France and Germany always backed the Ben Ali regime and praised the dictator for being a “friend of Europe” and for his suppression of “extremist Muslims.” Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Ben Ali as a great democrat. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a member of the French Socialist Party and former head of the International Monetary Fund, once stated that Tunisia was “a model for many emerging countries.” Rachid Ghannoushi, leader of Tunisia’s Ennehda party, has aptly remarked that “while the West criticizes Islamic governments for not being democratic, it also supports governments that are not democratic and that are keeping Islamic movements away from developing their ideas.”

Scourge of Female Genital Mutilations in Egypt

Female genital mutilations or female circumcision is defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Female genital mutilations (FGM), whose origins have a hoary past, are practiced in 29 countries, mostly in Africa. The WHO and UNICEF estimate that between 125 and 140 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. More than 80% of women who have undergone FGM live in sub-Saharan Africa. Female genital mutilations are particularly rampant in Somalia (98%), Guinea (96%), Egypt (95.8%), Djibouti (93%), Sudan (90%) and Mauritania (71.3%) and are also prevalent in Eritrea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Benin, Kenya, Liberia, The Gambia and Iraqi Kurdistan. The practice is sporadic in Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Oman and Yemen. FGM are also commonly found in the African diaspora in Europe. Thus, more than 24,000 girls of African descent, who are living in Britain, are at the risk of FGM.

FGM are widespread across Egypt. A 2005 government health survey revealed that 96% of the thousands of women who were interviewed said that they had undergone the procedure. Female circumcision has been in the focus of controversy and debate in Egypt. The practice has many supporters, including some ulama. Following a campaign launched by the Egyptian government, religious leaders and social activists, female genital mutilations were banned in 2008. The Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research issued an edict declaring that the practice of female circumcision has no basis in Islamic law.

Despite the ban, the practice of female genital mutilations continues to be widespread across the country. Now the campaign against FGM, joined by courts, religious leaders and women’s groups, has gathered strength. The percentage of Egyptian girls who underwent FGM dropped from 74.4 per cent in 2008 to 61 per cent in 2014.

Female Foeticide in Azerbaijan

Gender bias in favour of the male child is widespread across South and Southeast Asia, West Asia, Central Asia and North Africa and is particularly conspicuous in India, China and Korea. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that currently nearly 117 million women around the world are “missing” as a result of sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, gross neglect of girls and preventable maternal deaths.

Azerbaijan has a high rate of sex-selective abortions. According to government figures, the female-male ration in the country in 2014 was 100 girls for every 115 boys. The preference for male children and negative attitudes towards girls are widespread and deeply entrenched in Azeri society. Under pressure from the husband and in-laws, many Azeri women are forced to abort female foetues.

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