Saturday, March 08, 2008

THOUGHTS ON EDUCATION AND SHARING on WOMEN FROM AROUND THE WORLD AS “HEROES” THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY WEEKEND

THOUGHTS ON EDUCATION AND SHARING on WOMEN FROM AROUND THE WORLD AS “HEROES” THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY WEEKEND

By Kevin Stoda, Kuwait



Alongside my regular private school teaching load, for the current two month periods I am teaching Sunday School to pre-teens from India and the Philippines.

So, it was a pleasure as a lifelong educator to find that this International Women’s Day (March 8) weekend, our Sunday Bible school class for Pre-Teens’ focus was first on two strong women found in the Old Testament: [1] Deborah, the prophetess and leader of ancient Israel and [2] Jael (Yael), the female assassin of Israel’s arch enemy, Sisera, whose Canaanite military forces had taken over and dominated Israel militarily in the 20 years prior to Deborah’s leadership.

http://www.amit.org.il/learning/english/JW/Deborah.htm

Happily, at least one boy already knew the tale quite well, but sadly the majority of boys and girls in class here in Kuwait—as well as in the USA and around the world--don’t know the tale of Deborah, and how she also served as judge of Israel (as well as being famed as prophetess).

The second part of this weekend’s Sunday school lesson focused on Burma’s legendary female leader and Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

http://www.dassk.com/index.php

The children in my Sunday school class learned from a handout prepared by DPI publications on Aung San Suu Kyi that this modern day heroine:

-was born in Burma and her name means “A Bright Collection of Strange Victories”.
-became fatherless at age 2 when her father, Aung San, hero of the War of Independence against the British Occupation, was assassinated in 1947
-was educated in India while her mother served as Ambassador there for Burma
-graduated from Oxford University with degrees in philosophy, politics and economy
-returned to Burma to serve her mother at her mother’s death bed around 1988
-was asked to help lead the Movement for change & democracy in Burma
-was the winner of elections in Burma but was immediately jailed for 6 years as the Burmese military oligarchs refused to give up their fascist power
-is a disciple of Ghandi’s non-violent principles and fasted on behalf of persecuted and tortured friends and supporters while under house arrest
-became in 1995 UNESCO’s special advisor on human rights.

I added, to my student’s amazement, that Aung San Suu Kyi is again under house arrest—and has been for most of the last two decades.

These young children whom I was teaching Sunday school to were simply astounded and asked. “How could she still be alive after all that time imprisoned?” they questioned.

“Well, I noted, she certainly must do exercises and eat right most of the time. She must also pray.” I answered.

As our lessons this month focus on “conviction and courage”, I asked the students what they thought Suu Kyi’s convictions are.

Immediately, the children replied that Suu Kyi believed in freedom and felt she had to speak out against the military junta that was destroying her land and her peoples desire for freedom.

The same DPI Sunday school text added this question for the class:

“Suu Kyi (Soo Chee) chose to stand up and fight for her convictions. The opportunity arose for Suu Kyi to live out the convictions she had learned in her family. Her father had died for those same convictions. What are some of the convictions that you have, and how do the people in your life see those convictions?”

Sobering thoughts for any people, eh?


WOMEN IN MIDDLE EAST TODAY: Egypt 2008

February 29th FRIDAY TIMES here in Kuwait contained an article entitled “Egypt Men Say ‘I don't to Woman Marriage Registrar’”.

http://www.metimes.com/Politics/2008/02/28/egypt_men_say_i_dont_to_woman_marriage_registrar/afp/

This article is about some Egyptians who are opposed to being married under one Amal Soliman, who “is the first woman in the Middle East and possibly the Muslim world to be authorized to performs wedding ceremonies and sign marriage and divorce contracts.”

As my mother, Deloris Click, has been a United Methodist Minister in the conservative Bible Belt in the USA and has been marrying people since the 1970s in America, it is astounding to me that in both the Middle East and in the USA many Christians and Muslims in this year, 2008, still refuse to have a woman marry them.

On the other hand, as my mother has, in fact, married dozens and dozens of couples—even in rural Kansas’ & rural Oklahoma’ counties, I certainly know that not all men are so backward as the Egyptian article portrays.

However, even in Egypt, the new female justice has support.

Amal Soliman’s position of “maazun”, as her official governmental position is known in Arabic, connects “the worlds of bureaucracy and religion—two pillars of Egyptian society—the graduate in civil and criminal law said she is ‘more qualified’ than her colleagues to perform the function of ‘maazun’.”

The Egyptian Justice Minister, Mamduh Mari, concurred--indicating “Soliman’s nomination depended on her abilities rather than on her gender, but it has raised eyebrows and anger in the streets in the male dominated Arab Country.”

Despite the uproar in the streets in some sections of Egypt, Ali Saman, former head of Al-Azhar University’s religious dialogue committee, notes, “I’m not shocked at all, it’s a purely legal job, reading Koranic verses and conducting a marriage.”

In short, despite Islam’s professed historical bias in support of women’s rights in the Middle East, many tribes, political parties, and peoples in the Middle East don’t desire to see any more Deborah-like judges springing up all around the region in 2008.


MEANWHILE, IN AFGHANISTAN


Journalist Welsh Irvine writes that once the Teleban was kicked out, the number of girls entering school was much higher than anticipated. For example, NGOs and government officials expected an immediate jump of 1.2 million students in school but the jump was all the way to 3 million!

On the one hand, there have definitely been improvements in the area of schooling for woman and girls in many corners of Afghanistan since the NATO-allied Invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. However, there is a strong backlash against women and women’s rights in that war-torn land this 2008, too.

An example of this tribal and primeval backlash was the recent assassination of Mohammed Kamal Khan, father of one of the few daughters in Afghanistan to attend public and religious school training during the Taliban years.

Arti Pandey tells the story of “The Girl who Grew up as a Boy” in a 27th of February International Herald Tribune article. This girl referred to as “Azaad, the boy” was born to Khan as Azaada as a girl.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/02/26/opinion/edpandy.php


Kamal had noted the young girl, Azaada’s “strong aptitude for learning”. Soon, with the support of this loving father, Azaada became a real modern-day Yentil. (See movie of Barbar Streisands of the same name, set in a 19th century Russian Jewish community.)

Azaada was enrolled in school under the name of Azaad, which means “Freedom” in Hindi and Urdu.

“From then on, Azaada was treated as a boy, both at home and in school. Over the next several years, Azaada’s conversion to Azaad was complete. The liberty she had as a boy far surpassed anything girls experienced before, during or after the Taliban rule.”

It should be noted that Mohammed Kamal Khan’s “commitment to girls education was part of a lifelong endeavor.” After the Taliban were ousted, he began to support the non-profit organization Barakat’s Literacy Courses for girls in Faryab.

Sadly, Azaada’s father Kamal Khan was shot dead in December 2007. It is hoped that his daughter Azaada and others can carry on the struggle in months and years to come.

In any case, the courage of Khan and his daughter sets an important standard for other parents in the Middle East who are trying to raise their children to create and maintain a better world this 2008.


KUWAIT 2008

This past week, for the first time in history, an all-Kuwaiti female political bloc was established to vie for seats in the next set of parliamentary elections, which will likely take place in less than two years. (Kuwaiti women first received the vote and the right to stand for parliament only in 2006.)

On Thursday March 8, 2008, two days prior to International Women’s Day, a group of women activists “declared the first-ever all-woman grouping that represents the country’s diversified arena. The aim of the new women’s bloc is to promote a strong role for Kuwaiti women in the decision making process.”

According to the daily AL-WATAN, the new grouping was announced at the Kuwait Lawyers Society on Thursday. Currently, in Kuwait there is only one female minister and no female representatives in parliament. However, there are some women active in local governments. This is why the new group’s immediate aims are “to prepare women to occupy leading positions among decision makers.”

Interestingly, the women of Kuwait had been very active and open in promoting resistance and political rights during the Iraqi invasion in 1990-1991—as many of their husbands had fled the country or went underground.

However, with subsequent strong pressure from the Islamic bloc in Kuwaiti parliament in the 1990s, women had bowed out of politics for nearly a decade—although the Emir of Kuwait had tried to gain the right of franchise to females in Kuwait in the same era.

Now, as the women actually have now gained the right of vote and the right for participation in national politics, women leaders throughout Kuwait today are reviewing their previous positions in the political arena and are seeking to be engaged more and more.

One area in which women and the youth of Kuwait have been most active is in the press. One other arena, the women and youth coalitions have been seeking to reverse the Islamic bloc’s passage of segregation laws in Kuwaiti schools 8 years ago. They have also been vocal in the area of Bedouin rights.

For example, Muna Al-Fuzai, writes brilliant and fair societal articles for the Kuwait and Friday Times. Sheikha Muneerah Al-Sabah speaks out for improving education in Kuwait. Dr. Ebtehel Ahmad of Kuwait University finds herself being interviewed often in the press on topics that include liberalism in Kuwait, women’s roles in society and culture, and for making reports on the National Democratic Alliance.

In 2000, schools in Kuwait were officially segregated by gender as the Islamic bloc in the Kuwaiti parliament pushed through legislation turning-back-the-clock on improving education in Kuwait for all.

In the intervening years, though, most schools in Kuwait have been showing a variety of forms of civil disobedience and civil resistance in this arena of segregation--with many private schools and all universities, for example, ignoring and circumventing this segregationist legislation time-and-again.


SAD TREND IN USA IN 2008?

This anti-segregationist trend in Kuwait is an important shift in focus in this land at a time when segregation in U.S. schools is actually increasing for boys and girls.

In an ARAB TIMES article entitled “Georgia County Eyes Single-Sex Schools” dated 27 of Februaray, 2008, one AP writer notes, “Nearly four decades after a rural Georgia county stopped segregating its schools by race, it wants to divide students again—this time by sex.”

It is also noted, “Districts across the US have been switching to single-sex education since federal officials issued rules to ease the process in 2006. Nationally, at least 366 public schools are either entirely single-sex or have single-sex classrooms”.

In short, as this particular AP article had been published in Kuwait in the run-up to recent protests against segregation of sexes in Kuwait schools, I would say that what happens in the U.S. in coming months and years in the area of the re-segregation of schools by gender will probably have an affect both on developments in female education in Kuwait and throughout the states of federal Afghanistan—i.e. places which are trying to recover from the years of Taliban dominance.



NOTES

Abduldayem, Mervat “ Kuwait Witnesses First-ever Female Bloc”, AL-WATAN, 7 March 2008, p.1.

“Georgia County Eyes Single-Sex Schools”, ARAB TIMES, p.13.

Irvine, Welsh, “Journalism”, http://www.irvinewelsh.net/journalism.aspx?jid=24

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