News & Current Affairs

July 2, 2009

Forced marriage plea to schools

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:07 am

Forced marriage plea to schools

Forced Marriage Unit poster

Forced marriage: Helpline calls up on last year

New guidance is being published urging schools to identify signs of forced marriages ahead of the holidays.

The guidance comes as an official report raises questions about how some schools and councils have failed to act on suspicions or evidence of abuse.

The report calls on schools to play a greater preventative role, saying some are clearly reluctant to get involved.

The government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) says it has received 770 calls for help this year – up 16% on 2008.

The unit, run jointly by the Home Office and Foreign Office, received 1,600 reports last year – and intervened in 420 actual cases.

The courts have also made 36 forced marriage prevention orders, a recently created power designed to prevent people being taken abroad against their will.

Overall, there are estimated to be at least 5,000 cases of forced marriage, but it is impossible to know for certain.

FORCE MARRIAGE HELPLINE
770 calls Jan – June 09
Up 16% on same period of 2008
1,600 calls last year
Courts can intervene to protect victims
Special British team launches rescues in south Asia

But experts say the coming month will be critical because there is growing evidence that abusive families use the school summer holidays to coerce daughters and sons to marry abroad.

The new guidance published by the FMU urges teachers to be aware of signs of a possible forced marriage because school and college is often the only place where the potential victim can speak freely.

The document also provides guidance to doctors, police, social workers and other community workers.

However, according to government research, also published on Thursday, some local bodies are not doing enough to intervene.

This is not something you must be culturally sensitive about – this is a child abuse issue
Jasvinder Sanghera
Campaigner against forced marriages

The report for the Department for Children, Schools and Families details criticisms of some schools and education authorities, accusing them of being “non-responsive” and failing to intervene as they dismiss forced marriage as a “cultural issue” or fear a backlash from powerful figures in minority communities.

“In all areas we noted a variation among key partners in the importance they attached to responding to forced marriage,” says the report.

“One respondent talked about how it was precisely those cases of children [going missing from education] that showed the signs of forced marriage that were less likely to be followed up in schools as this was seen as an issue specific to the culture of the child.”

Act on suspicions

Jasvinder Sanghera of Karma Nirvana, a national campaign group against forced marriages, urged public sector workers, and particularly teachers, to act on suspicions.

“This is not something you must be culturally sensitive about,” she said. “This is a child abuse issue, and you must treat it in that way and follow your child protection procedures. Do not turn a blind eye”.

Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant told the news that professionals needed to have their “eyes wide open”.

“There are key times of the year, particularly if an elder sibling has married very young or suddenly left school, if a youngster is self-harming or if they are constantly being accompanied by parents, even to a doctor’s surgery,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme. “These may be clear signs that there is a problem.”

“I should make it absolutely clear there is no culture and there is no religion in which forced marriage should be acceptable or indeed is acceptable,” he added.

“I know there are maybe some people who think this is an issue about Islam – it’s not. Islam does not recommend or accept forced marriage. Marriage in every religion has to be freely and openly consented to”.


What do you make of these guidelines? Is this the right way to handle the issue? Have you been affected by the issues in this story? Tell us your thoughts

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September 30, 2008

Egyptian TV show gives away homes

Egyptian TV show gives away homes

Winning couple Rabab Mahmoud and Ashraf Aboubakr

Teachers Rabab and Ashraf, the proud and happy owners of a new flat

A new quiz show in Egypt has focused attention on one of the country’s most pressing social problems: the severe shortage of affordable housing.

Every night during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a popular television programme has been giving away a new flat to a couple who cannot marry simply because they cannot afford a home.

During rehearsals on the bright, flashy set of al-Beit Beitak (The House is Yours) nerves begin to show.

Hazem Abd Raouf, a factory worker in his late-20s reaches for the hand of his fiancee of eight years, Shaimaa Shawky, a dental assistant.

Standing opposite them behind touch-screens two English teachers, Rabab Mahmoud, 30, and Ashraf Aboubakr, 31, exchange encouraging smiles.

Both couples are about to compete for a prize that will change their lives: a new apartment.

‘My dream’

“The main pressure when you’re trying to get married is finding a flat,” Rabab explains.

“My dream is to have our wedding soon. This is our chance and we are praying for it.”

The institution of marriage is in crisis. You have serious economic problems but also you have consumer culture taking over. It’s rigid – dictating what a married couple should have. The family exerts a lot of pressure
Dr Mona Abaza
American University in Cairo

“I have been waiting for so long,” says Shaimaa. “If we win an apartment tonight we will run to get married.”

The catchy theme tune plays out as the programme goes live on-air and the contestants are introduced to its audience of millions.

Neither Hazem nor Shamaa has a privileged background. Ashraf and Rabab earn low wages in the state school system.

All four live at home with their parents. Many young Egyptians can identify with their situations.

“It is a striking problem,” says television producer, Yara Hassan. “There are a lot of people who can’t afford to have a proper home and they are suffering.

“They face a psychological problem because of the financial and social burden.”

Marriage in crisis

Marriage in Egypt is the gateway to adulthood yet it is estimated that almost half of all Egyptian men remain unmarried at the age of 30.

The main reason is the cost which typically involves buying and furnishing a home.

Cairo rock fall

A recent rock fall in the impoverished Duweika area killed more than 100

“The institution of marriage is in crisis,” says Dr Mona Abaza, a sociologist at the American University in Cairo.

“You have serious economic problems but also you have consumer culture taking over.

“It’s rigid – dictating what a married couple should have. The family exerts a lot of pressure.”

A drive on a main road out of Cairo reveals no housing shortage. In fact there are thousands of acres of new developments.

Many are gated compounds with their own swimming pools and gyms. Some have their own private schools and clinics.

Here, those who can afford it live in relative luxury.

Slum life

But head to the areas inhabited by the masses of Egyptians on lower incomes and the contrast is stark.

There has been little investment in homes for the less well-off at a time of increased urbanisation.

Millions of people live in old, overcrowded tenements and unplanned, fast-expanding slums.

Earlier this month in the impoverished Duweika district on the eastern outskirts of Cairo a section of hillside collapsed crushing dozens of homes and killing more than 100 people.

The government is now under growing pressure to show it can provide better-quality, affordable housing.

But back at the TV studio the competing couples try to take matters into their own hands.

Ashraf and Rabab quickly take the lead following the general knowledge questions.

There is a late rally from Hazem and Shaimaa but the teachers clinch their win in a final round about each other’s likes and dislikes.

“I can’t believe it I’m over the moon,” declares Rabab. “This is heaven’s gift.”

“I’m very happy because God willing I will marry soon,” says Ashraf. “This is something great in my life.

“The main problem was the apartment. Anything else could be solved.”

The pair are wasting no time. They are already planning their wedding for the first of January. In the new year they will finally start a new life together.

September 3, 2008

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

The Expressyoureself Blog looks at the problem of teenage pregnancy in the US after the revelation that the 17-year-old daughter of Alaska Governor and new Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant.

Bristol Palin, 17, holds her brother Trig during a Republican campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, on 29 August 2008

Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was announced on Monday

The US is said to have one of the worst annual rates of teenage pregnancies in the developed world.

According to a report by Population Action International, published at the end of last year, there were 44 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in the US for 2000-2005.

This compares with figures in the UK – itself said to be the country with the worst teenage pregnancy rate in Europe – of 27 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19.

Put differently, America is estimated to have some 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year.

Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialised nations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to America’s leading health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “About one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20.”

More than 80% of births in this group “were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time”, the CDC said.

Separately, in a report on 2002 data, the CDC said: “Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialized nations. The costs of teenage childbearing in the United States are substantial.

“The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently estimated that $9.1bn in public funding was expended on teenage childbearing in 2004. These costs include public assistance, healthcare, child welfare and other expenses.”

Abstinence education

There is a debate state-side as to the reason for this high pregnancy rate.

The US offers government funding for health education programmes that promote sexual abstinence until marriage, although US lawmakers were investigating earlier this year whether to cut the funding.

State governments receive federal money they must match to fund abstinence programs.

Opponents of abstinence education say the approach ignores the fact that teenagers are sexually active and fails to give them accurate medical information or advice on safer sex.

Governor Palin herself has said she opposes funding sexual-education programs in Alaska and has supported abstinence programs in schools.

“The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support,” she wrote in a 2006 questionnaire distributed among gubernatorial candidates, the Associated Press reports.

A social conservative who is opposed to abortion, she said in a statement her daughter Bristol would keep the child and was to get married.

And in 2005, presidential candidate John McCain, who picked Mrs Palin as his running mate, opposed a Senate Democratic proposal that would have spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for pregnancy prevention programmes other than abstinence-only education, including education on emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill, AP reports.

August 16, 2008

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

Madonna turns 50: Highs and lows

https://i1.wp.com/blog.mobiles.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/madonna300.jpg

Madonna – one of the most successful stars in pop history – celebrates her 50th birthday on Saturday.

Use our interactive timeline to find out more about the ups and downs of her career.

Full name: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Born: August 16, 1958, Bay City, Michigan, USA

Also known as: The Queen of Pop, Material Girl, Madge, Esther, Mrs Ritchie.

Biggest hits: Holiday, Into The Groove, Like A Prayer, Vogue, Ray of Light, Music.

Quote: “A woman who pulled herself up by her bra straps and has been known to let them down occasionally” (Bette Midler, introducing Madonna at Live Aid in 1985).

1963 – MOTHER DIES

Madonna’s mother, also called Madonna, dies of breast cancer. The tragic event has a lifelong impact on the singer. “You walk around with a big hole inside you, a feeling of emptiness and longing,” the star later says.

1982-1985 – INITIAL CHART SUCCESS

Madonna moves to New York in 1977, where she studies with choreographer Alvin Ailey and works as a model.

Madonna

Early music demos recorded with her boyfriend Stephen Bray make their way to Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, who demands to meet her, even though he is in hospital with a heart condition. Impressed with “the drive, the zeal, the ruthlessness” of a young Madonna, he signs her on the spot. But her first few releases only make an impact in clubs.

Holiday becomes Madonna’s first breakthrough hit in the US, reaching number 16 in late 1983. Her first top 10 hit comes a year later with Borderline, a song she later disowns. She is more proud of the subsequent, career-defining hits Like A Virgin and Material Girl. The sell-out Virgin Tour begins in 1985 with support from the Beastie Boys.

1985 – MARRIAGE

Madonna receives rave reviews for her role in mainstream film Desperately Seeking Susan (she previously made low-budget sexploitation movie A Certain Sacrifice in 1979).

She also hits number one with Into The Groove, plays Live Aid, and marries actor Sean Penn on a Californian clifftop, their vows drowned out by the roar of press helicopters circling overhead.

1986 – TRUE BLUE

True Blue

True Blue was the first time Madonna had a writing credit on every song.

The album True Blue, with its iconic Herb Ritts cover, cements Madonna’s reputation as the first lady of pop, reaching number one in 12 countries and spawning five hit singles.Papa Don’t Preach, which deals with teenage pregnancy, confirms the star’s willingness to tackle controversial issues, while Live To Tell’s raw vocals (recorded on the first take) show new emotional depth.

Her first world tour, Who’s That Girl, sees the singer mobbed by adoring fans in cities across the globe.

But Madonna’s film career takes the first of many serious beatings with the release of Shanghai Surprise.

A year later, she separates from Sean Penn, and the couple are granted a divorce in 1989.

1989 – LIKE A PRAYER

Like A Prayer video

The video for Like A Prayer caused storms of protest

The release of Like A Prayer marks the moment when critics first begin to describe Madonna as an artist, rather than a mere pop singer. The title track’s video, which shows the star kissing a black saint, causes storms of protest – but sends her straight to number one.She follows up the album with the hit single Vogue and the lavish Blond Ambition tour. At the end of 1990, Madonna seals her reputation with a Greatest Hits album – The Immaculate Collection.

1992 – SEX

Sex book

The sex book was shot by noted fashion photographer Steven Meisel

A coffee table photo book, Sex, finds Madonna in a number of sexually explicit poses with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Vanilla Ice. The book is derided in the press, and the dark and seedy Erotica album suffers as a result.Two years later, she makes a bizarre, expletive-filled appearance on David Letterman’s talk show. Madonna asks the host to smell her underwear, smokes a cigar and quizzes Letterman on whether he urinates in the shower. When she refuses to leave the stage, several audience members shout “get off”.

The show marks a low point in public perception of the star.

1996 – EVITA

Madonna’s casting in Evita helps to rehabilitate her image – and her film career. Meanwhile, she falls pregnant to fitness trainer Carlos Leon, giving birth to her first daughter, Lourdes, in October.

1998 – RAY OF LIGHT

Ray of Light

Ray of Light was produced by British musician William Orbit

Ray Of Light marks a musical return to form. Its laid-back blend of dance and electronica catches the pop superstar in a reflective mood, musing on fame and parenthood. She continues to mine this rich seam of futuristic pop with Beautiful Stranger in 1999 and Music in 2000, albeit with diminishing returns.In the meantime, she meets Guy Ritchie at a party thrown by Sting’s wife Trudi Styler. The couple have a son, Rocco, before tying the knot in Scotland days before the new Millennium.

2004 – RE-INVENTION

Re-invention tour

The Re-Invention tour took more than $125m (£62.5m) in ticket sales

After the lacklustre American Life album, Madonna looks to the past for her Re-invention World Tour. Highlights including the yoga-inspired dance routines of Vogue, and a bagpipe version of Papa Don’t Preach.She follows it up with a love letter to disco, Confessions on a Dancefloor, produced by the tour’s musical director Stuart Price. Based around European dance music – including a prominent Abba sample on Hung Up – sells 8 million copies, but its singles perform badly in the US.

The accompanying tour draws flack when Madonna performs Live To Tell while strapped to a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns.

2006 – ADOPTION

Madonna and David Banda

Madonna ‘s adoption was challenged by Malawian civil rights groups

Madonna visits Malawi, arriving by private jet in the capital, Lilongwe. She says she is in the country on a humanitarian mission to visit Aids orphans, but government officials say she plans to adopt a child.A week later, Yohane Banda tells the Associated Press news agency the star has adopted his 13-month-old son, David. “I know he will be very happy in America,” he says.

Madonna denies she has used her status to “fast-track” the process, and the adoption does not receive final approval until 2008.

2008 – KEEPING BUSY

Hard Candy

Hard Candy features collaborations with Justin Timberlake and Kanye West

Showing no signs of letting up the pace as she approaches 50, Madonna parts company with record label Warner Brothers to sign a ground-breaking contract with concert promoters Live Nation.She is also inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; releases an album, Hard Candy; directs her first film, Filth and Wisdom, and produces I Am Because We Are, a documentary about Aids orphans in Malawi – all while fending off rumours about trouble in her marriage.

After celebrating her 50th birthday, the megastar sets off on her Sticky and Sweet world tour next week.

August 12, 2008

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Ghada Abdelaal with her book Ayza-Tgawwiz

Abdelaal’s story started as an online log – now she’s working on a sitcom

“I want to get married” is a perfectly normal thing to say for a young Egyptian man. But when a girl says it in such a conservative society – let alone writes a book with that title – she is making a political statement.

“Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her,” says the author of the top-selling book, Ghada Abdelaal. “To say she wants something is seen as impolite.”

The book started as a blog, before it was spotted by an Egyptian publisher and printed as a series of comic sketches in which flawed and failed suitors knocking at her parents’ door.

A paranoid policeman, a hirsute fundamentalist, a pathological liar and other hilarious caricatures portrayed in sparkling Egyptian vernacular.

Marriage anxiety

The veiled, softly-spoken Abdelaal is a sharp and witty observer of social incongruity in Egypt, a feisty spirit trying to tear up stifling tradition.

They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married
Ghada Abdelaal

She says her target is not Egyptian men but a tradition known as “gawwaz el-salonat” (living room marriage), where a stranger is brought to the family home and the daughter must decide whether to marry him on the basis of this brief encounter.

“People who go for a picnic need to know each other a little longer than that – let alone make a lifelong commitment.”

The book’s popularity – it is in its third print run with a sitcom in the offing – reflects a widespread anxiety in Egyptian society. More and more young people cannot afford to get married.

Although the book focuses on finding Mr Right, she acknowledges finding an affordable flat remains an almost insurmountable obstacle. Many young people stay engaged for years before they can save up enough money.

“By the time they actually get to live together, they are already tired of each other,” says women’s rights activist Nihad Abou El Qoumsan. This causes the unusually high rate of divorce among the newlyweds in Egypt, she says.

Such is the impact of property prices on the marriage crisis, a popular talk show has invited engaged couples to join a draw to win a flat.

A new apartment will be given away by a wealthy businessman every day of the fasting and holiday month of Ramadan, in September. Huge numbers have registered.

Sexual frustration

Some describe it as a social time bomb. Religious customs mean there is no sex before marriage. So how do young people react to this situation?

I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated
Anthropologist Hania Sholkamy

Sociologist Madeeha al-Safty of the American University in Cairo believes one consequence is sexual harassment of women and rape reaching unprecedented levels in Egypt.

“If you are frustrated, there is the possibility that you take it out [through] violence.

“Some people choose the safer way in moving towards a more religious attitude – not necessarily extremism, but it might reach the point of extremism,” she adds.

But anthropologist Hania Sholkamy hesitates to link the problems of sexual harassment and rape to the marriage crisis.

“I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated. There are many millions of people who are extremely frustrated, but they do not harass women.

“I think the issue is one of violence and gender disparities, pure and simple.”

Gender disparities is a theme running throughout Abdelaal’s book, from the provocative title questioning the woman’s passive role in a traditional society to the way children are brought up.

“They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married.

“Even after she goes to school they tell her that a girl’s only future is in her husband’s home. So what happens when a girl for any reason cannot get married. Should she set fire to herself?”

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