Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Meanwhile, in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

Women aren't doing too well. First the more serious news from Pakistan (via No Capital):

In a setback for women's rights in Pakistan, the ruling party in Islamabad has caved in to religious conservatives by dropping its plans to reform rape laws.

Statutes known as the Hudood ordinances, based on sharia law, currently operate in Pakistan. They require a female rape victim to produce four male witnesses to corroborate her account, or she risks facing a new charge of adultery.

The ruling party in Islamabad, made up of a coalition of groups allied to President Pervez Musharraf, had hoped the new Protection of Women Bill would place the crime of rape within the country's secular penal code, which works in tandem with sharia.

But the government said rape would remain a crime punished by Islamic law yesterday after conservatives in an opposition group, Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal (MMA), threatened to walk out of parliament in protest if the government pushed ahead with reforms.

"If there are four witnesses it will be tried under [Islamic law], if there are not, it will be tried under the penal code," said the law minister, Mohammad Wasi Zafar.

"In the case of both adultery and rape, the judge will decide how to try the case."

Now why would the fact that the judge can decide how to try the case? Because if the judge decides to try it under the Islamic law, the woman bringing the case to court will be in terrible trouble:

Under current laws, a victim risks courting punishment if she reports a rape allegation as the Hudood ordinances criminalise all extra-marital sex.

A woman who fails to prove that she was raped could then be charged with adultery under the same legislation.

No wonder that women in Pakistan are very unlikely to report rape.

In Saudi Arabia, a country where women have very few rights already, one more restriction on them is being considered:

Officials are considering an unprecedented proposal to ban women from performing the five Muslim prayers in the immediate vicinity of Islam's most sacred shrine in Mecca. Some say women are already being kept away.

The issue has raised a storm of protest across the kingdom, with some women saying they fear the move is meant to restrict women's roles in Saudi society even further. But the religious authorities behind the proposal insist its real purpose is to lessen the chronic problem of overcrowding, which has led to deadly riots during pilgrimages at Mecca in the past.

It was unclear why the step was being considered now, but officials say they have growing concerns about overcrowding, particularly at Mecca's Grand Mosque. The mosque contains the Kaaba, a large stone structure that Muslims around the world face during their daily prayers.

The chief of the King Fahd Institute for Hajj Research, which came up with the plan, told The Associated Press Thursday that the new restrictions are already in place. There have been word-of-mouth reports of women being asked to pray at new locations away from the white-marbled area surrounding the Kaaba in recent weeks.

Now this new restriction is something that even the most fundamentalist scholar can't base on precedence. It's a brand new invention, and the reason given is an odd one. If overcrowding is such a problem, why not ban men from that area?