Recently a lengthy scholarly article by Dr. Sherif Addel Azeem dealing with the conception of woman in the three Abrahamic religions, has appeared under the title of Women in Islam vs. Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth and the Reality. I have relied on such an article in double checking the historical data of the Islamic tradition on its conception and treatment of women. While agreeing with some of its premises and conclusions, I disagree with others as will become apparent further down in this essay. The juxtaposition of those variant views stimulated by Dr. Azeem’s article has yielded some surprising insights which I’d like to share with the reader.
As is commonly known, the Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam (which in Hebrew means first man) and Eve (which in Hebrew means first woman) is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent then seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, Adam tries to place all the blame on Eve. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Consequently, God said to Eve: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” To Adam He said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree … Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…”
In this narrative, or myth if you will, both Adam and Eve get punished and held responsible for disobedience. God is not punishing one for the faults of another, which would be unfair; neither does he accept Adam’s rationalization that the woman is exclusively responsible for the deed of disobedience. He holds them both responsible and punishes both. This needs to be kept well in mind: God judges, assigns the blame justly and equally; both Adam and Eve are punished.
On the other hand, the Islamic conception of the first sin, while appearing similar to the Judeo-Christian view at first sight (complete with the act of creation, the idyllic garden where everything is good but where Satan lurks in the form of a serpent, the positing of limits to freedom, the act of disobedience, and a meting out of punishment), it is nevertheless different in its conception of woman and what it implies. Here Eve does not come across as a seducer and temptress. The narrative is found in several places in the Qur’an, for example: “O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost.” (7:19:23).
A careful comparison of the two accounts of the primordial story of the Garden reveals some essential differences. The Qur’an seems to assign equal blame on both Adam and Eve. Nowhere in the Qur’an, try as one may, one will discover the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Here Eve is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not punished with the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Qur’an, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.
Needless to say, the image of Eve as temptress in the Bible, absent in the Qur’an has impacted in a negative way the image of women throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile, as part of original sin. Consequently, it is almost logical to think of all of them as untrustworthy and somehow, morally inferior. In the New Testament we read these words by none other than the evangelizer and prime theologian of Christianity, St. Paul: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:11-14). Also this: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35). It couldn’t be more clear.
And yet a caveat is in order here. As the founder of Christianity, nowhere in the gospels do we discern Jesus teaching and approving any kind of subordination of one of his followers to another. Instead, he expressly forbade it in any Christian relationship. All three Synoptic gospels record Jesus teaching his disciples that any subordination of one to another, both abusive and customary, is a pagan practice—not something to take place among his followers. Having issued his strong prohibition against subordination of others, he prescribed the Christian alternative to subordination as being the exact opposite: profound service to others, extending even to making the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life if necessary: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”
His first phrase, “lord it over”, described the Roman masters who wielded ultimate and unlimited power. His second phrase, “high officials”, referred to lesser Roman officials who, having some limitations of power, “exercised authority” over their citizens. In the nearly identical passages in all three Synoptic gospels, Jesus sternly commanded his disciple that “It shall not be so among you”, clearly forbidding both abusive extreme “lording it over” others, and even more moderate, ordinary “exercise (of) authority” over others. Egalitarian Christians consider that this teaching of Jesus to the men who were the 12 Apostles trumps any subsequent interpretation of the teachings of Paul and Peter that allegedly establishes “Husband-Headship” requiring “Wife-Submission”, or denying women opportunities to serve in any leadership position within the Church. The New Testament of the Bible refers to a number of women in Jesus’ inner circle—notably his Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene who is stated to have discovered the empty tomb of Christ and known as the “apostle to the apostles” since she was the one commissioned by the risen Jesus to go and tell the 11 disciples that he was risen.
According to the New Testament, Christ saved a woman accused of adultery from an angry mob seeking to punish her, by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.
Unusually for his epoch, Jesus is said to have provided religious instruction to women. The Gospel of John provides an account of Jesus directly dealing with an issue of morality and women. The passage describes a confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees over whether a woman, caught in an act of adultery, ought to be stoned. Jesus shames the crowd into dispersing, and averts the execution with the words: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” According to the passage, “They which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last,” leaving Jesus to turn to the woman and say, “Go, and sin no more.”
Another Gospel story concerns Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary where the woman Mary sits at Jesus’ feet as he preaches, while her sister toils in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Mary that she should instead be helping in the kitchen, Jesus says that in fact, “Mary has chosen what is better”
The story of Mark 5:23–34, in which Jesus heals a woman who had bled for 12 year suggests not only that Jesus could cleanse his followers, but this story also challenges Jewish cultural conventions of the time. In Jewish law, women who were menstruating or had given birth were excluded from society. Therefore, the woman in Mark was ostracized for 12 years. Jesus healing her is not only a miracle, but by interacting with an unclean woman, he broke from the accepted practices of the time and embraced women.
So, Jesus treated women with compassion, grace and dignity. The gospels of the New Testament, especially Luke, mention Jesus speaking to or helping women publicly and openly. Martha’s sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet being taught, a privilege reserved for men in Judaism. Jesus had female followers who were his sponsors, and he stopped to express concern for the women of Jerusalem on his way to be crucified. Mary Magdalene is stated in the Gospels to be the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. In the narratives, Jesus charged her to tell others of what she had seen, even though the testimony of a woman at that time was not considered valid.
The historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that women were more influential during the period of Jesus’ brief ministry than they were in the next thousand years of Christianity. Blainey points to Gospel accounts of Jesus imparting teachings to women, as with a Samaritan woman at a well, and Mary of Bethany, who rubbed his hair in precious ointment; of Jesus curing sick women and publicly expressing admiration for a poor widow who donated some copper coins to the Temple in Jerusalem, his stepping to the aid of the woman accused of adultery, and to the presence of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ side as he was crucified. Blainey concludes: “As the standing of women was not high in Palestine, Jesus’ kindnesses towards them were not always approved by those who strictly upheld tradition. According to Blainey, women were probably the majority of Christians in the first century after Christ. Jesus always showed the greatest esteem and the greatest respect for woman, for every woman, and in particular He was sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the social and religious barriers of the time, Jesus reestablished woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men … Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.
Comparing to Paul’s traditional standing towards women to Jesus’ attitude toward them, what becomes immediately apparent is that somehow his example was not imitated after his death and resurrection. Paul seems eager to put women in their proper place. To be sure, this is not unusual in many religions: the founder establishes certain innovative ideals which at times may even go against well established and revered traditions and customs, but after his death the initial enthusiasm and zeal begins to cool. The attitude toward women in Christianity seems to have been a retrogressive phenomena hardly representing the example of its founder. We shall see further down that something like that also happened to Islam: at a certain point in time a downward movement began and the religion begins to gradually lose its pristine impetus. To be sure, the theory and the ideal remain but the practice leaves much to be desired
Let’s in turn have the Qur’an speak for itself on this issue: “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise– For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (33:35). “The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71). “And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another” (3:195). “Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss” (40:40). “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (16:97).
It should be clear from the above passage that the Qur’anic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Qur’an never mentions that the woman is the devil’s gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. Moreover, it never mentions that man is God’s image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Qur’an, a woman’s role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Qur’an never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Qur’an has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharaoh’s wife: “And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.’ And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout” (66:11-13).
In fact, according to Dr. Azeem, the difference between the Biblical and the Qur’anic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that: “The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qur’an severely condemned this heinous practice: “When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?” (16:59). The Qur’an makes no distinction between boys and girls. It considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Qur’an even mentions the gift of the female birth first:” To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills” (42:49).
In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: “He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire”. “Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers”.
Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Qur’anic position any different? One short story narrated in the Qur’an sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: “You are to me as the back of my mother.” This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband’s home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Qur’an intervened; Khawla’s plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Qur’an whose title is “Almujadilah” or “The woman who is arguing” was named after this incident: “Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things….” (58:1). A woman in the Qur’anic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.
According to the Bible, a man must fulfill any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges made by her become null and void: “But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15). In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Qur’an: “He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths” (5:89). Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths: “O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (60:12).
In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood are unparalleled. The Qur’an places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood’ ” (17:23-24). The Qur’an in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother’s great role in giving birth and nursing: “And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents” (31:14).
The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad: “A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father'”. Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners.
The one question all the non-Muslims, who had read an earlier version of this study, had in common was: do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer, unfortunately, is: No. Since this question is inevitable in any discussion concerning the status of women in Islam, we have to elaborate on the answer in order to provide the reader with the complete picture.
It has to be made clear first that the vast differences among Muslim societies make most generalizations too simplistic. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world today. These attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual society. Nevertheless, certain general trends are discernible. Almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and traditions-oriented, while the second is more liberal and Western-oriented.
The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears. These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy; she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of her family’s inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order not to behave immodestly while her brother’s immodest acts are tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher status in her community.
On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture and way of life. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the worst and most superficial (often called “progressive”) practices of Western civilization, the worst perhaps being the dispatching or religion per se as passé and unprogressive and not very modern and “enlightened.” In these societies, a typical “modern” woman’s top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she is often obsessed with her body’s shape, size, and weight. She tends to care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the Qur’an in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she ends up spending her life striving more in realizing her femininity than in fulfilling her humanity. The cartoon below brilliantly makes the point. But there must exist a more nuanced and harmonious view of women. Paradoxically, it turns out that the more balanced, harmonious view is the traditional one, often forgotten or discarded.
Why did Muslim societies deviate from the ideals of Islam? There is no easy answer. The ineluctable fact remains that Muslim societies have deviated from Islamic precepts concerning so many aspects of their lives for a long time now. There is a wide gap between what Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually practice, as indeed there is also one in Judaism and one in Christianity. The gap has been there for centuries and has been widening. Terrorism and ideological fanaticism is not and never was an Islamic phenomenon. Perhaps it is this ever widening gap that can be blamed for disastrous consequences on the Muslim world: political tyranny and fragmentation, economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy, intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. The cartoon of the two women carrying AK47, one Moslem and one Western, makes the point in this regard. Any reform in the current status of Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of the Muslim societies’ whole way of life. Irshad Manji has recently shown us a possible way to analyze the situation and begin the reform process with her book titled The Trouble with Islam Today. The subject will be dealt in part II of this essay. Indeed, the Muslim world is in need for a renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim women today is due to Islam itself is an utter misconception. The problems of Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Islam, rather, they may well be due to a long and deep detachment from it.
Political Parties, Church and Grand Mufti in Bulgaria: No Rights for Women
On 12 March, the European Parliament called upon EU countries including Bulgaria to ratify the Istanbul Convention. However, only one Bulgarian MEP was present at the debates. And he was against the treaty.
Just on the eve of International Women’s Day on the March 8, the Bulgarian government, attacked by political parties, the Holy Synod and Grand Mufti, said it would abandon its plans to send the Istanbul Convention to parliament for ratification. This situation clearly shows that Bulgarian society is not ready yet for the European future that envisages rights equality.
The Council of Europe Convention, known as the Istanbul Convention, was signed in 2011 in Istanbul to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. So far, it has been supported by 45 member states of the Council of Europe amid having been ratified in 28 countries with only 17 of them being EU members.
Unfortunately, the Convention still faces fierce opposition in many European Union countries. Thus, when in late February Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov said the motion to ratify the document had been rejected, Slovakia announced it would also withdraw its request for the ratification of the Convention under the pressure of similar conservative politicians.
Having signed the Convention in April 2016, the Bulgarian government announced it was going to ratify the treaty only at the end of 2017. A statement came from Deputy Minister of Justice Desislava Ahladova during the round table discussion Prevention of Violence through Education organized by the Bulgarian Fund for Women.
The announcement of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s ruling coalition GERB sparked off a wave of criticism. First, the United Patriots, a group of three parties known for their radical views lashed out at the government’s decision. “A woman cannot refuse her husband sex. That is why she gets married,” said Volen Siderov, chairman of the parliamentary bloc. In another statement, the United Patriots claimed that the Convention would legitimize the “third gender” and open the door to “transvestites from Iran.”
Soon, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church joined the criticizing group, though it backed the Convention in January 2015. Urging the National Assembly not to ratify the document, the Synod published a declaration blaming the government for introducing “a new understanding of man – man as an absolute master, the man without God who follows his desires and passions to such an extent that he can even determine his gender.” According to the Church, the term gender is the one that raises much concern. “The consequences of denying biblical truths are tragic and we are witnessing them in many societies where “gender” ideology has long been a state policy,” the Synod stressed. The Orthodox Church even called for prayers against the ratification.
Just a day after the Orthodox Church came up with comments, the Bulgarian Grand Mufti followed the suite. In a quite lengthy statement, the supreme body of Muslims in the country provided a number of theistic and secular arguments against the ratification. First of all, some legal uncertainties are a reason for the Grand Mufti’s disapproval. Although the government officials have stated several times that no changes would be made in the Constitution if the Istanbul Convention is adopted, the Mufti worries that important documents such as The Family Act, the Anti-Discrimination Act, the Young People’s Act, the Internal Policies Act would have to undergo substantial change in order to fulfill the Convention’s requirements. Both Christianity and Islam stand for traditional values, so it’s not really surprising that their positions in this matter coincide.
On the 25th of January Bulgarian Socialist Party introduced an initiative to submit a referendum proposal in the National Assembly. “[The convention] has generated enormous tension in the Bulgarian society and diverging opinions. That’s division,” BSP leader Kornelia Ninova said, as quoted by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television. “We think that the one who has to have their say on this issue is the Bulgarian people. This is why tomorrow we will be tabling the necessary signatures of Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs to ask for a decision to hold a referendum on the Istanbul Convention.”
However, her initiative failed as on the same day the government changed its mind and withdrew the proposal for ratification.
Obviously, the reaction of confessions and politicians depends on the current mood in Bulgarian society. Recent surveys show that the majority of Bulgarians are against the proposed Convention. Thus, according to the Barometer Bulgaria pollster, 63% of respondents said they disapprove of ratifying such a document. However, it is not shocking as four in five people in Bulgaria think that the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family, per a November 2017 Eurobarometer survey.
The story of the Istanbul Convention in Bulgaria is a vivid example of how conservative politicians and clergymen can influence the political agenda in a country and impede new motions in the human rights sector.
United Nations Drowning Prevention Group launched on World Water Day 2018
Ambassadors from across the world have highlighted the need for global drowning to be tackled if the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are to be met by 2030.
In an open letter on World Water Day (22 March), members of a newly formed UN group on drowning prevention, launched today, have called on the international community to recognise safe access to water as a global development priority alongside access to safe water.
With drowning claiming 360,000 lives a year across the globe, the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention – with founding members including the governments of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Fiji, Thailand, Tanzania and Ireland – has called for drowning to be recognised and resourced in line with its impact on communities worldwide.
This comes as the UN launches the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, focussed on addressing water-related challenges including access to safe water and sanitation.
Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Head of International Advocacy Helen Morton said:
“Drowning is a silent epidemic. Responsible for more deaths each year than international development priorities including malnutrition and maternal mortality, it goes unrecognised and under-resourced. Drowning hits the most vulnerable first and worst; children and young people represent the majority of lives lost and almost all occur in low and middle income countries. Wasted lives and preventable deaths on an epidemic scale.
“Rightly, resource in recent decades has focused on delivering the human right to water, but it’s now critical that we focus on water access in the fullest sense; recognising safe access to water as well as access to safe water as a pressing development problem, and as a means to enable development.
“The RNLI has been working with governments across the world committed to helping to end this silent epidemic, and we’re encouraged that a new dedicated UN group has launched today on World Water Day to prove that prevention is possible.”
The full open letter is available below.
A letter from the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention
Today, on World Water Day, we celebrate that water enables the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across our planet. The launch of a new United Nations Decade of Action on Water is an opportune moment to reaffirm our commitments to this urgent and important issue.
But in our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and make the UN Decade on Water successful, we must address the issue of water access in the fullest sense – that includes recognition of the realities in which those who are left behind live.
While our focus has been on access to safe water, it is critical to draw the attention of the global community to the need for safe access to water.
Each year, drowning is responsible for more deaths than malnutrition or maternal mortality. It affects the most vulnerable first and worst; almost all of the 360,000 drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Among these, children and young people represent the majority of lives lost. Every other minute, a child loses their life to the water. Drowning is the number one cause of child mortality in many countries across South East Asia and the Western Pacific.
In committing to the SDGs every country in the world has committed to deliver a set of Goals for their citizens by 2030. Ensuring safe access to water will be critical to reducing child mortality and to achieving sustainable development as a whole. Drowning prevention is a forgotten but fundamental enabler to ensure that every child survives and thrives; while insuring investment in nutrition, education and immunisation and providing a set of required survival skills that will protect our future generations.
Drowning is not fate, nor inevitable.
Every life lost to the water is preventable. Simple and scale-able solutions, such as survival swim lessons, community crèches and flood response skills, can be delivered at a large scale and low-cost, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. This is ever-more important with growing exposure to water due to climate change and increased risks of natural disasters, yet to date drowning has been absent from political debate, and has not received the level of public attention it deserves.
So, today, we officially launch the Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention, to mobilise governments from across the geographic and political spectrum to act on this common cause; to ensure that the issue of drowning prevention is recognised and receives resources commensurate with its impact on communities worldwide.
As the President of the General Assembly launches the Decade of Action on Water for Sustainable Development, we call upon him, and fellow leaders, to recognise the importance of safe access to water alongside access to safe water. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that no one is left behind, inaction is not an option.
Masud Bin Momen, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations Luke Daunivalu, Ambassador of Fiji to the United Nations Virachai Plasai, Ambassador of Thailand to the United Nations Nguyen Thi Phuong Nga, Ambassador of Viet Nam to the United Nations
Seven Out of 10 Top School Systems Are in East Asia Pacific
The East Asia and Pacific region has seven of the top ten performing education systems in the world, with schools in China and Vietnam showing significant progress, according to a new World Bank report released today. This is a major accomplishment that offers important lessons to countries around the world. In the rest of the region, however, up to 60 percent of students are in under-performing schools that fail to equip them with the skills necessary for success.
Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and the Pacific argues that improving education is necessary to sustain economic growth and highlights the ways that countries in the region have been able to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on lessons from successful education systems in the region, it lays out a series of practical recommendations for key policies that promote learning so that students acquire foundational skills in reading and math, as well as more complex skills that are needed to meet future labor market demands.
“Providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of where they are born, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the foundation of a strong economy and the best way to stop and reverse rising inequalities,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.
A quarter of the world’s school-age children – some 331 million – live in East Asia and the Pacific. Up to 40 percent of them attend school in education systems whose students are ahead of the average students in OECD countries. These schools are not only in wealthy countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, but also in middle-income countries such as China and Vietnam. And, as the report highlights, student performance isn’t necessarily tied to a country’s income level. By age 10, for example, the average Vietnamese student outperforms all but the top students in India, Peru and Ethiopia.
But many countries in the region are not getting the results they want. In Indonesia, for example, test scores showed students were more than three years behind their top-performing peers in the region. In countries such as Cambodia and Timor-Leste, one-third or more of second graders were unable to read a single word on reading tests.
Another key finding of the report is that across the region, household incomes do not necessarily determine children’s educational success. In Vietnam and China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), for example, students from poorer households do as well, if not better, in both math and science, as compared to average students in the OECD.
“Effective policies for the selection, motivation, and support of teachers as well as sound practices in the classroom are what determine how much students learn. For policymakers looking to improve their school systems, allocating existing budgets efficiently, coupled with strong political commitment, can make a real difference in the lives of children across the region,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education.
The report lays out concrete steps for improving learning for lagging systems in the region and beyond, starting with ensuring that institutions are aligned so that objectives and responsibilities across the education system are consistent with each other. The report also urges a focus on four key areas: effective and equity-minded public spending; preparation of students for learning; selection and support of teachers; and systematic use of assessments to inform instruction.
The report found that top-performing systems spend efficiently on school infrastructure and teachers, have recruitment processes to ensure the best candidates are attracted into teaching, and provide a salary structure that rewards teachers with proven classroom performance. It also found that schools throughout the region increased preschool access, including for the poor, and have adopted student learning assessment into their educational policies.
The report complements and builds on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and found that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.
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