Concern mounted Thursday in Iran over the fate of the Islamic republic’s only woman to have won an Olympic medal, who is believed to want to settle in The Netherlands.
Kimia Alizadeh clinched a taekwondo bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, drawing praise from her compatriots including the country’s President Hassan Rouhani and even conservatives in the Islamic republic.
In keeping with Iran’s strict Muslim custom, Alizadeh, then 18, competed wearing a headscarf over her taekwondo uniform and protective gear.
There were high hopes she would compete at the Tokyo Olympics later this year and bring home another medal, but it appears this is not to be.
The semi-official ISNA news agency on Thursday carried a report saying: “Shock for Iran’s Taekwondo. Kimia Alizadeh has emigrated to The Netherlands.”
According to ISNA, the coach of the women’s national team said that Alizadeh is suffering from an injury.
It said Alizadeh did not show up for trials ahead of the Tokyo Games.
Isna and several other media believe that Alizadeh, who is reportedly training in The Netherlands, is hoping to compete in Tokyo but not under the Iranian flag.
A poor quality picture posted on the internet, and showing a woman who is believed to be Alizadeh without a headscarf and mixing with a group of young men and women, has sparked tens of thousands of comments.
And the hashtag #Kimia_Alizadeh was one of the most-shared Thursday on Twitter in Farsi.
Tansin news agency, which is close to ultra-conservative groups, questioned why the taekwondo federation and Alizadeh’s family “have not yet reacted to confirm or deny the stunning development” of her defection.
Iranian MP Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh, meanwhile, demanded answers, accusing those he described as the “incompetent officials” of allowing Iran’s “human capital to flee” the country.
He drew a comparison between Alizadeh and Iranian chess prodigy Alireza Firouzja who won the grandmaster title at age 14, two years after winning the Iranian chess championship, and who now lives in France.
If Alizadeh fails to represent Iran at the Tokyo Olympics it would be a huge blow for the Islamic republic.
Along with judo, taekwondo is one of Iran’s sporting strengths.
Last year, the International Judo Federation suspended Iran from international competition over its refusal to allow its fighters to face judokas from Israel which the Islamic republic does not recognise.
The threat came by anonymous Instagram message one late Iraqi evening, making Hala’s blood run cold: “I’ve got all your pictures and recordings. Shall I send them to your dad?”
The young Iraqi woman received a wave of similar messages after hackers infiltrated her Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram accounts and stole explicit images she had sent in private.
“Some of them wanted money, some wanted a sexual relationship, even if it was just on the phone, others just wanted to bully me for no reason,” said Hala, 25, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
Women in Iraq say they are facing a staggering increase in online “sextortion” by both malicious hackers and former romantic partners to whom the women had knowingly sent photographs, a practice known as revenge porn.
Victims, activists and lawyers blame the phenomenon on a blend of factors: a conservative society, social media being used as virtual dating platforms, poor digital security among victims and weak laws.
The potential consequences can be devastating in a milieu as conservative as Iraq: at best, an indelible mark of shame on a family but at worst, a death sentence by “honour killing” for the victims.
Last year, Iraqi model and Instagram starlet Tara Fares was shot dead in Baghdad, with many suspecting gunmen who were contemptuous of her comparatively liberal lifestyle.
With Fares’ fate in mind but unwilling to bend to her blackmailers’ demands, Hala ultimately fled Iraq this year.
“But I still get threats. These people don’t forget.”
‘Every kind of violence’
Widespread gender separation has pushed Iraqi youth to use sites like Facebook or Instagram as de facto dating platforms, said gender-based violence expert Rusul Kamel.
And in a country with no sex education at school, girls join secret all-female forums to discuss their bodies or seek advice.
The couples and groups often exchange intimate photographs — which for a woman in Iraq can be something as mild as a picture without a traditional Muslim headscarf, “considered a shame in this society,” said Kamel.
These images were being increasingly exploited, Kamel and other activists said, relaying testimonies of a half-dozen victims who declined interviews out of fear their identities would be revealed.
One woman paid $200 every month for four years to an ex-boyfriend so he wouldn’t publish intimidate pictures of her, her colleague told AFP.
Another had her photographs stolen by a hacker and sold her telephone and jewelry to pay him off.
A third developed an online affair with a man, who then threatened to forward her pictures to her husband unless she slept with him.
“Cyber-extortion combines almost every kind of gender-based violence — sexual, psychological, economic — and the victims rarely find social or legal recourse,” said Kamel.
Indeed, sextortion is rising partly because “there’s no deterrent,” said lawyer Marwa Abdulridha, who has been referred dozens of cases in the past three years.
She said entering a police station is considered taboo for Iraqi women, and victims also fear blackmailers could be protected by one of the country’s powerful tribes.
“That’s why most victims don’t even file a complaint. Going to court is like a bogeyman for them,” Abdulridha added.
Victims who do pursue a case often face judges who know little about the internet or classify the crime differently.
“I’ve had judges ask, ‘what is this Facebook?'” she said.
“And if a judge sees the case as a man ‘terrorising’ a girl, he could apply the counter-terrorism clause and recommend the death sentence. Or he could see it as libel and order a fine,” Abdulridha added.
Iraq’s interior ministry said it opened three “sextortion” cases in Baghdad over the past month, charging some accused perpetrators with “criminal threats” and others with fraud.
But one department known as Iraq’s community police is using a different approach.
Their stations have female officers to encourage victims to come forward, and units are trained in dealing with gender-based violence under the principle of “do no harm”.
“Our officers prioritise the victim’s anonymity, and we pursue the case however she feels comfortable — inside or outside the courts,” said the force’s national chief, Ghalib Atiya.
Community police units said they can be more effective than the courts — in northern Mosul, units resolved three sextortion cases in a single week using reconciliation.
But Atiya said the problem is “spreading to a dangerous level,” with women making up 60 to 70 percent of online extortion victims in Iraq, most in Baghdad and the tribal south.
“We need the law to really bring the numbers down,” he said.
But Abdulridha, the lawyer, said real change required a more holistic approach.
Media should stop reporting such cases as scandals and non-government groups should provide digital security training to prevent hacking, she said.
“Otherwise, a girl can be killed in a split second,” she said.
The first ever women’s wrestling match in Saudi Arabia will be held on Thursday, organisers said, the latest unlikely event staged in the kingdom as it attempts to shrug off an ultra-conservative image.
World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) said that its “superstars” Natalya and Lacey Evans will face off in the pay-per-view event which will also feature former boxing champion Tyson Fury as he takes on Braun Strowman.
The organisers said the two women had done battle in some tough bouts recently, including one that Evans, a former US Marine, “won by powerbombing her foe off the side of the stage and through a table”.
The bout at King Fahd Stadium will be an incongruous scene in a country where women are generally obliged to wear the black “abaya” cloak.
However, Saudi Arabia is boosting entertainment that allows citizens to have fun, in what some see as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.
De facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas, and lifting a prohibition on women driving.
Developing the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of his Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world’s largest economy for the post-oil era.
In a landmark decision in August Saudi Arabia announced it would offer tourist visas — relaxing rules that had largely restricted visits to business travellers and Muslim pilgrims.
However, not all the initiatives have gone to plan. Nicki Minaj, known for her provocative, profanity-laced lyrics and skin-baring music videos, was to headline a concert in Riyadh in July but pulled out in a show of solidarity for women’s and gay rights in the kingdom.
The wrestling match is part of the Riyadh Season, which includes more than 100 entertainment and arts events over two months during the capital’s cooler winter months.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said that the Senate will support initiatives and efforts aimed at widening the scope of women participation in politics and governance.
Lawan stated this on Wednesday when he hosted a delegation of United Nations Women at the National Assembly, Abuja.
According to him, “there’s a need to do more for women participation in politics and governance in Nigeria.”
“We are looking forward to improving the number of women at the National Assembly by widening and deepening the scope of participation by women in Nigerian politics,” he said.
Speaking further, the Senate President recalled that the introduction and passage of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act by the 8th National Assembly facilitated the participation of young persons in politics during the last general elections.
He said the National Assembly, in a bid to extend the gesture to Nigerian women, “will be openly disposed to support everything that will widen the political space for them.”
“I believe that with the percentage of the population that our women in Nigeria have, they deserve to be there on the table when decisions will be taken.
“I believe that the support will be total, whole and complete when we are able to capture every possible interest or sphere of participation that women are supposed to be involved in,” Lawan added.
Speaking earlier, the Deputy Executive Director and leader of the UN Women delegation, Ms. Asa Regner, called on the National Assembly to support efforts that will ensure the inclusion of women in governance.
According to Regner, Nigeria blazing the trail would encourage other countries within the African continent to widen the space for women participation in politics.
“Whatever happens in Nigeria plays a very important role in the region and the rest of the world,” Regner stressed.
On the visiting delegation are: Ms. Oulimata Sarr, Regional Director, West and Central Africa and Ms. Comfort Lamptey, Country Representative.
Senators present during the courtesy visit include: the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi; Deputy Senate Leader, Ajayi Boroffice; Deputy Chief Whip, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi; Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, and Deputy Minority Leader, Sahabi Y’au.
Others are: Senators Rose Okoh, Chairman, Committee on Trade and Investments; Oluremi Tinubu, Chairman, Committee on Communications; Betty Apiafi, Chairman, Committee on Women Affairs; Ibrahim Gobir, Chairman, Committee on National Security and Intelligence; Michael Nnachi, Vice Chairman, Committee on Surface, and Sadiq Umar (APC, Kwara North).
Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday it will allow women in the ultra-conservative kingdom to serve in the armed forces as it embarks on a broad programme of economic and social reforms.
The move is the latest in a series of measures aimed at increasing the rights of women in the kingdom, even as rights groups accuse Riyadh of cracking down on women activists.
“Another step to empowerment,” the foreign ministry wrote on Twitter, adding that women would be able to serve as private first class, corporal or sergeant.
Last year, Saudi Arabia authorised women to join its security forces.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has approved a handful of reforms aimed at widening women’s rights, including allowing them to drive and to travel abroad without consent from a male “guardian”.
But he has at the same time overseen the arrest of several prominent women’s rights campaigners, including activist Loujain al-Hathloul.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, is pushing to improve its image and attract tourists as part of a plan to diversify its economy away from oil.
With placards stating “enough is enough”, hundreds of protesters marched in Johannesburg on Friday to protest at gender-based violence in one of the world’s most crime-ridden countries.
Demonstrations in South Africa have been mounting over the rising toll of murders, rapes and abuse of women and girls, and a sense of impunity and government failure that surrounds it.
“I deal with kids coming through my door complaining about rape,” said Tshego Modisane, a 27-year-old teacher from the township of Soweto.
“They say ‘I have been raped by my uncle, violated by my dad, my step-dad,'” she told AFP, clutching a sign that read “YES #menaretrash”.
“All these kids are vulnerable girls who have nowhere else to go.”
Police crime figures released on Thursday showed that sexual offences including rape rose 4.6 per cent over a year.
More than 40,000 incidents of rape were reported to the police between April 2018 and March 2019 – a figure likely to be far short of the true numbers.
President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to review laws and crackdown on perpetrators last week, after hundreds of women assembled on the sidelines of an economic summit in Cape Town to draw attention to the issue.
But frustrated by the pace of change, some 500 demonstrators – mainly women – gathered again in Johannesburg to demand “action not words”.
“It will not be business as usual,” they chanted, as police watched on the sidelines.
“The law just has to be stricter. There should be no bail for rapists, it’s ridiculous,” said Natalie Pool, 36, adding that she remained sceptical about Ramaphosa’s promises.
Blood-stained sheets and clothing were laid out in front of Johannesburg’s stock exchange in Sandton – one of the city’s most affluent areas – to call for more support from businesses and banks.
“Dear private sector, your silence is uncomfortable,” an organiser shouted into a megaphone, before inviting participants to observe a moment of silence for the latest victims.
South Africans have recently been shocked by the separate murders of three young women.
A 19-year old university student and a 14-year old schoolgirl were killed in Cape Town earlier this month – the former raped and beaten to death on her way to a post office.
Boxing champion Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels, 25, was allegedly shot dead by her partner, who was a police officer, last month.
Their stories triggered outcry and soul-searching in a country that often appears numb to murder and sexual violence.
“There was a whole lot of hush culture when it came to abuse, particularly around gender-based violence and sexual issues,” Eden Bohulu, 22, told AFP at the protest.
“These issues have always existed but I think it’s only now that we’ve decided to fight.”
Siboso Mohlwayo was among the minority of men attending the event.
A young astronomy student, he was protesting in support of his sister, now in high school, who was sexually assaulted as a child.
He was disappointed by the male turnout.
“All of them should have come out as it’s their responsibility as humans to fight,” he said, the word “Amandla” – Zulu for “power” – printed on his T-shirt.
Their absence, he said, “shows how much disappointment we can expect from our own nation.”
Belinda Bencic stunned top-ranked defending champion Naomi Osaka to reach the US Open quarter-finals, where she will face Donna Vekic, who rallied from match point down on Monday to advance.
Bencic’s 7-5, 6-4 triumph, her WTA-best sixth over a top-five foe this year, ensured 21-year-old Japanese star Osaka will fall from the world number one spot next week.
“The challenge cannot be bigger against Naomi,” Bencic said. “I had to be at the top of my game and I’m really pleased how well I handled my nerves at the end.”
The 22-year-old Swiss 13th seed matched her deepest career Grand Slam run from the 2014 US Open with her third victory of the year over Osaka, having also won at Indian Wells and Madrid.
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, the reigning French Open champion who was beaten Sunday, will move into the world number one position next Monday.
Vekic, the 23rd seed from Croatia, saved a match point in the second set and made her first Slam quarter-final by rallying past German 26th seed Julia Goerges 6-7 (5/7), 7-5, 6-3.
“I don’t even know how I won this match,” Vekic said. “She was serving for the match. She had match point. I just kept fighting and believing I could win. It feels pretty amazing.”
Bencic owns a 2-1 career edge over Vekic from two 2014 wins but Vekic won the most recent meeting with her friend and frequent practice partner in the third round of this year’s French Open.
“It’s going to be a tough match for sure,” Vekic said. “She’s one of the best players this year.”
Osaka’s exit means there will be four different women’s Grand Slam winners in a season for the third consecutive year, a first in the Open era.
Reigning Australian Open champion Osaka struggled from the start on the same Arthur Ashe Stadium court where she consoled tearful US teen Coco Gauff just two days earlier.
“It was just an unbelievable moment for tennis,” Bencic said of Osaka helping Gauff cope with her sadness. “Coco’s story is unbelievable but what Naomi did is what a true champion would do.”
Osaka double faulted to surrender a break in the opening game of the match, but leveled at 2-2 when Bencic netted a backhand.
Bencic swatted a backhand down-the-line winner for a break to seize a 6-5 lead then held on a service winner to capture the first set.
Osaka double faulted away a break to hand Vekic a 3-2 lead and the Swiss never faced a break point in the second set, finishing off the victory with a forehand winner to end matters after 87 minutes.
“I was taking the serve early, trying to anticipate, because she has so much power,” Bencic said. “I’m trying to play like chess and make it tactical on the court.”
Bencic hit 29 winners with only 12 unforced errors to Osaka’s 26 winners and 21 unforced errors.
Confident in rallies
Goerges won the tie-breaker with consecutive forehand winners, then broke Vekic to open the second set and fired four consecutive aces for a 2-0 lead.
But the German was broken serving for the match, squandering a match point in the 10th game, and Vekic broke again when Goerges hit a forehand wide to force a third set.
“I was just trying to get a return in the court,” Vekic said. “She was serving amazing. I was feeling confident in the rallies and I knew if I could get that return in I would have an advantage.”
US upstarts play seeds in later matches as 116th-ranked qualifier Taylor Townsend faces Canadian teen 15th seed Bianca Andreescu and Belgian 25th seed Elise Mertens meets 141st-ranked wildcard Kristie Ahn.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday began implementing a landmark reform allowing women over the age of 21 to receive passports and travel abroad without permission from a male “guardian”, authorities said.
The reform, announced earlier this month, weakens the restrictive guardianship system that has long been a symbol of repression against women.
“The passport department has started receiving applications for women aged 21 and above to issue or renew passports and to travel outside the kingdom without permission,” the department said on Twitter.
Women in the kingdom have long required permission from their male “guardians” — husband, father and other male relatives — for these tasks, a restriction that drew international censure.
The reform comes after high-profile attempts by women to escape alleged guardianship abuse despite a string of reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a landmark decree last year that overturned the world’s only ban on women drivers.
In other changes unveiled earlier this month, Saudi women were also granted the right to officially register childbirth, marriage or divorce and to be recognised as a guardian to children who are minors –- same as men.
The reforms were widely celebrated in the kingdom, but they also drew backlash from arch-conservatives, many of whom shared old video sermons on social media by Saudi clerics advocating guardianship laws.
Some also denounced the change as “unIslamic” in a society that traditionally sees men as protectors of women.
The reform comes as the OPEC petroleum producer reels from low oil prices and seeks to boost employment opportunities for women –- currently facing chronic joblessness.
Hundreds of women demanding protection from Mexico City’s police force took to the streets Friday after a number of high-profile sexual assault cases involving serving officers.
To shouts of “I do believe you!” and “My friends protect me, you don’t,” the initially peaceful rally ended with some participants lighting a fire on the second floor of a police building and vandalizing a bus station.
The protesters also sprayed graffiti on the capital’s Independence Monument, adorning the base of the stone edifice with the slogan “damned pigs!”
Two reports of attacks on women this month have sparked outrage and bitter recriminations against the city’s police force, with protesters mobilizing on social media through the hashtag #NoMeCuidanMeViolan, or “They don’t protect me, they rape me.”
A 17-year-old girl said four police officers assaulted her in a patrol car in the city’s north.
An officer was accused of assaulting a 16-year-old in a museum just days later.
“I worry young women cannot go to school or return from a quiet party because someone will rape them, just because they can,” said Melissa Ortiz, who attended the march.
The 40-year-old said there were few protections for women, especially when the men accused were the authorities “that should be protecting us.”
The city has suspended six police officers as part of the investigation into the 17-year-old’s alleged assault, but no arrests have been made. The prosecution has also said there were inconsistencies with the teenager’s account of the incident.
A man was arrested last week in connection with the alleged attack on the 16-year-old.
Violence against women, in the form of femicide, abuse, harassment and sexual assaults, has intensified in the country in recent years. According to the United Nations, an average of nine women are murdered daily in Mexico.