Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Medical School and Marriage in India

The Times of India reports that today women make up 70% of medical school students in Andhra Pradesh, India. While that appears to bode well for proponents of gender equality in the sciences, it seems the prestige associated with with a doctor in the family is not the driving force behind parents' supporting their girls in medical careers. Instead, the status and prestige of medical school means the girls are more marriageable. The families of boys seeking wives believe that if there is money for an elite medical school there is certainly money for a big dowry.

Explaining the social trend, a senior doctor said: "If a girl wants to study, parents do not think twice about the repercussions such as dowry and marriage expenses. And, when they are prepared to pay Rs 50 lakh for an MBBS seat, they will also be prepared to loosen their purse strings for the marriage." 

Doctors say that while parents usually go by the interests of their children, there are some who also put pressure on their kids to take up the profession. "Till the undergraduate level, girls do very well in studies. However, by the time they finish house surgeonship, a good number of them are already married," says Dr AY Chary, dean of Dr VRK Women's Medical College, the only medical college in the state exclusively meant for women.

This sounds like something out of the 1950s in the US, perhaps as portrayed in the Julia Roberts film, Mona Lisa Smile. In that film girls went to college not to earn university degrees and get good jobs, but to "snag a husband."

To read "The reality behind rising number  of women medicos in Andra Pradash," click here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gender and Islamic Law in Malaysia

The New York Times just published an article, "Seeking the Right to Be Female in Malaysia . Under Islamic law, it is illegal in Malaysia for men to pose as women. Those men who have undergone sex-change operations in neighboring Thailand and who now dress and live as women face arrest and "may be sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined as much as 1,000 ringgit, about $325, or both" according to the article. Homosexual acts are also outlawed and violators face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
For the complete article, click here or continue below. For related blogs see:
In Malaysia: Religious, Social and Legal Claims on Gender

Rahman Roslan for the International Herald Tribune,
Adam Shazrul Bin Mohammad Yusoff dressed in her room in Seremban, Malaysia.

Seeking the Right to Be Female in Malaysia

SEREMBAN, MALAYSIA — The feminine figure dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, makeup carefully applied, drew little attention from other customers at the fast-food restaurant in Seremban, a city about an hour’s drive south of Kuala Lumpur. 

The 26-year-old began wearing women’s clothing at age 13. Thanks to plastic surgery in neighboring Thailand, a daily dose of hormones and a feminine nickname, she is able to present herself as female to the outside world. But her official identification card — which Malaysians must produce in dealings like job interviews — declares that her name is Adam Shazrul Bin Mohammad Yusoff and that she is male. 

The discrepancy between her appearance and her officially recognized gender presents much more than just awkward moments in Malaysia, where Shariah, or Islamic law, bans Muslim men from dressing or posing as women. Penalties differ in individual states, but in Negri Sembilan, where the 26-year-old lives, convicted offenders may be sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined as much as 1,000 ringgit, about $325, or both.

Tired of living in fear of prosecution, the 26-year-old — who has been arrested twice and was once fined 900 ringgit — and three other transgender people are challenging the law in the secular courts, arguing that it violates the Malaysian Constitution, which bans discrimination based on gender and protects freedom of expression. A verdict in their case — the first time anyone has sought to overturn the law — is expected next Thursday. “It’s for freedom — to be like everybody else, to wear what we like,” said the 26-year-old, explaining why she is taking part in the case. “This shouldn’t happen. It’s an unjust law. We are just human beings. We are not doing anything wrong.”

Transgender people — those who act like, dress as or feel themselves to be the sex opposite of what they were born — say they are often ostracized in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country where homosexual acts are also banned and punishable by caning and as much as 20 years’ imprisonment.
Some states also have laws that bar Muslim women from dressing as men, but activists say the religious authorities focus mainly on those born male who wear women’s clothes.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, transgender people are subject to discrimination, harassment, and verbal, sexual and physical abuse within their families, at school, in workplaces, in the provision of services and in society more broadly, according to a report released in May by the U.N. Development Program. The report states that there could be as many as 9.5 million transgender people across the Asia Pacific region and that “alarming numbers” of transwomen — men who identify or present as women — are H.I.V. positive.

Support groups say transgender people in Malaysia face considerable discrimination. They say they often struggle to find work, prompting some to turn to sex work, and that they often face abuse, sometimes by the authorities. The 26-year-old and the three other litigants in the court case — Mohammad Juzaili Bin Mohammad Khamis, Shukur Bin Jani and Wan Fairol Bin Wan Ismail — have all been arrested on accusations of dressing as women. Two of their cases are continuing, pending the outcome of the judicial review. The four are arguing not only that the law is unconstitutional but also that it should not apply to them because they have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder.

The 26-year-old, who supplements the money she earns as a makeup artist with sex work, said religious officers groped her when they arrested her. “They were very rough,” she said, adding that she is fortunate that her family accepts her, unlike the case for some of her friends. She said that she turned down a job offer at a bank when its managers insisted that she cut her hair short, and that she turned to sex work because it helped pay for the “monthly maintenance” required to keep her looking female, including hormones, and allowed her to dress as she liked.

One of the other litigants, a 25-year-old makeup artist who has been fined 1,000 ringgit on three occasions for dressing as a woman, said religious officers had once punched her in the face.
She said she wanted to officially change her name and gender, because it was stressful knowing that she could be arrested at any time and jailed. “This is not just for me,” she said of the court case.
“It’s also for the community. This is something that needs to be done. We need to highlight the existence of transpeople in this country,” she said. The Negri Sembilan State and central government departments responsible for Islamic affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

Thilaga Sulathireh, an independent researcher and rights advocate who has helped the four take their case to court, said that there were no publicly available figures indicating the total number of Malaysian men who have been prosecuted for dressing as women but that arrests were not uncommon. “It’s unfortunate that there are Shariah laws to do moral policing,” she said, adding that two transgender people in Malacca State have also filed for a judicial review of the law since finding out about the Negri Sembilan case. Ms. Sulathireh said that non-Muslim men who dress as women have been fined under a civil law governing public indecency but that this was less common.
She said that although Shariah judges could exercise discretion, they generally seemed to follow a “three-strike rule,” under which people are jailed after being arrested three times. But that is not always the case.

Nisha Ayub was jailed for three months after her first arrest for dressing as a woman 14 years ago. Ms. Nisha, who was 20 at the time, said prison wardens forced her to walk naked in front of the male inmates. “It’s something I can’t forget until today,” she said. Ms. Nisha, who now works as the transgender program manager at the PT Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that provides counseling and health support for transgender people, said many were often afraid to go to hospitals because they feared discrimination from medical staff.

Support groups say a fatwa, or religious edict, issued in the 1980s that forbids Muslims from having sexual reassignment surgery has led many Malaysians to travel to Thailand for surgery.
While the current case is the first legal challenge to the law that bans men from dressing as women, several other Malaysians who were born male have sought to be legally declared women.
Last year, a court in Terengganu State rejected an application by a 26-year-old man to be legally declared a woman. Horley Isaacs, a lawyer, said the court rejected the application of Mohammad Ashraf Hafiz Abdul Aziz to change her name to Aleesha Farhana Abdul Aziz, on the basis that “since she didn’t have a womb she doesn’t qualify to be a woman.” Ms. Aleesha, as his client was known, died about a month after the verdict. The local news media gave the cause as heart problems, but Mr. Isaacs said he had been unable to obtain a copy of the death certificate from the hospital.
“All she asked me was ‘please give me a chance to live,”’ said Mr. Isaacs. He said that although several similar court applications had failed, in 2005 a Kuala Lumpur court allowed a man who was not a Muslim to change his identity to female on his identification card.

Aston Paiva, the lawyer representing the four in the judicial review, said that if the court finds in their favor, it would mean that they, and other transgenders in Negri Sembilan, could no longer be arrested for dressing as women. Mr. Paiva said the decision could have implications beyond Negri Sembilan because transgender people arrested in other states could use the verdict to argue their case. Despite the Islamic law prohibiting her from dressing as a woman, the 26-year-old from Seremban says she remains a practicing Muslim. She fasts during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and sometimes visits the mosque, where she wears men’s clothing. She said while she knows that, according to Islam, men should not dress as women, “this is something that is in me. This is how I feel.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

(Mis)understanding Islam

The blog, Muslim Voices, Voices and Visions: Islam and Muslims from a Global Perspective, promotes "intercultural dialogue and understanding between Muslims and Non-Muslims through podcasts, videos, public events, art exhibits, and discussions." Based at Indiana University, their web site states:

Voices and Visions: Islam and Muslims from a Global Perspective is a project of Indiana University comprised of various initiatives and activities that are all dedicated to promoting understanding and dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. The project aims to:
  • Increase intercultural understanding by providing access to the voices and visions of Islam and Muslims locally and around the world.
  • Inform and promote dialogue as it tackles the complexities of Islam and the often complicated relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.
  • Replace misinformation, mistrust, and oversimplifications with awareness, consideration, dialogue, and a diversity of voices.
  • Promote accessible scholarship, forthright communication, balanced viewpoints, and the value of the many voices and visions of Islam
I want to thank them for featuring a post about Humanitarian Travel Abroad's 2012 trip to Kolkata and our volunteer work in Dhaksindari slum. The visit was organized by Empower the Children and the amazing Roslie Giffoniello.

Here is the current featured video from Muslim Voices, "What Do You Think People Misunderstand Most About Islam?"

Also read, Volunteer India.

Smile Bangladesh

Smile Bangladesh was founded by Dr. Shahid Aziz of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark, NJ. As a volunteer medical administrator for Healing the Children, NE, Inc. I conducted the initial site visit for Dr. Aziz in advance of his first cleft lip and palate mission to Bangladesh in 2006 with Impact Foundation Bangladesh. Now, Aziz and his team of volunteer surgeons, nurses and anesthetists travel twice a year to operate for free on children born with cleft deformities. In 2005, I was told that in the entire country of Bangladesh had only eight doctors specializing in plastic surgery, this in a country of $150 million people.

While born in the US, Aziz's father was from Bangladesh and instilled in his son the idea of service to others. He has passed that along to the benefit of children whose smiles would, without Smile Bangladesh, perhaps forever have remained less than perfect, their lives stigmatized, their nutrition compromised, by this deformity. Here are two videos highlighting the wonderful work of Smile Bangladesh volunteers. Above is an overview of the trip with a close look at the need for this type of skilled intervention. Below is the story of one young woman from Bangladesh, Shenjuti, born with a cleft lip who was able, as a dental student from Columbia University, to give back to her community.

Shahid Aziz Brings 'Smiles' to Bangladesh