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Why Women’s Human Rights Issues Require Serious Responses

As Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) has been stating since our first public event on International Women’s Day, the continuing threats of misogyny, oppression, violence, and murder against women in the world is a serious human right’s issue.  Any issue that impacts and threatens women, who represent half of humanity, must require our urgent attention.

We promote the defense of women’s human rights from all of the attacks against them:  the misogynist hate crimes against women in America and around the world with atrocities such as in the Congo, the need for full Constitutional rights of women in America, and the atrocities of oppression, violence, and murder of women rationalized by some in the world based what we have called “extremism.”

On the last of these, we have seen a continuing inconsistency and lack of seriousness about addressing the ideological basis that is used to rationalize such misogynist hate, violence, and murder.  We have seen groups that oppose the idea of “stoning” in Iran and Saudi Arabia, but not the ideology that rationalizes such misogynist hate.  We have seen groups that oppose so-called “honor killings” of Muslim women, but won’t challenge the ideology that rationalizes such murders.  We have seen groups that claim they are for human rights, but carefully ignore abuses where non-Muslim and other minority Muslim women are oppressed, abused and murdered by those who rationalize their actions based on ideology of extremism in its various sects and permutations.

This lack of seriousness in addressing this life and death women’s human rights issues remains an ethical challenge for our generation.  We cannot let this continue.  Yet we see this lack of seriousness on such mortal women’s human rights issues bandied about recklessly by academia, human rights groups, and politicians.  Surely it time we challenge those who do not take the daily ideological threat to women’s lives and freedom seriously.

At a recent conference on peace issues, where an academic scholar was discussing the idea of improving the role of women to further peace in “fundamentalist Islamic” nations, I asked how we could improve this role without any challenge to the ideology behind the oppression of such women.  The answer that came back was that this would all take time, perhaps 100 years or more.   Of course, none of us will be around to argue whether the scholar is correct in such a protracted approach…  nor will all of the women whose lives were lost over the time period because we were unwilling to challenge the misogyny of an extremist ideology.  But what was truly disturbing was how it appeared that I was the only one in an audience of hundreds who seemed to view this scholar’s apparent willingness to accept such femicide over the next century (at least) as an outrageous abandonment of women’s rights.  Accepting an endless femicide of Muslim and non-Muslim women because we fear challenging an ideology of supremacism is not a serious nor an acceptable human rights solution.

Moreover, such inconsistency is not limited to academia, but extends to well-known, international human rights groups themselves.   At the end of July, I attended a seminar on Capitol Hill on “How Empowering Saudi Women Can Undermine Extremism.”  At the seminar, Human Rights Watch provided us with copies of their analysis of the Saudi Male Guardianship program.   This report disturbingly included references and quotes from ISNA President Ingrid Mattson, who has defended the idea of an extremist caliphate, and who has unquestioningly claimed that “legal rights of women were enshrined in Islamic law,” when we can see around the world on a daily basis that extremists use Sharia law as a justification to deny Muslim women such rights.

I asked conference speaker Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Leah Whitson (Executive Director for the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch) if there were measures that the United States government could take to help protect Saudi women by offering asylum measures similar to what the United Kingdom started doing.   Ms. Whitson’s reply was that essentially it is none of America’s business, and that what Americans should really be concerned about is pressuring Israel.  I looked around wondering, if somehow I had wandered into the wrong conference.  No, this was indeed the “How Empowering Saudi Women Can Undermine Extremism” conference.  But when I questioned the HRW speaker again on how we could actually help Saudi women through American influence, I was told that we should focus on Israel, and be more concerned about other asylum cases.  Moreover, I was told that the U.S. had no influence with Saudi Arabia (when did we stop subsidizing Saudi Arabia’s oil industry?).  It was no surprise to learn that HRW has been seeking funding from Saudis.

Finally, we see such inconsistency from politicians which is predictable, since their business is focused on whatever combination of popularity stunts, political outrage, and compromise will continue to keep them in office.  However, since these politicians end up as our government representatives and leaders, we also need to hold them accountable for a more serious handling of such women’s human rights issues.

As I have previously written, there has been a consistent and conscious denial of the extremist threat to women from U.S. government officials in virtually every branch of government.  Such utter abandonment of such a vital and serious human rights issue threatening half of the world’s population, and increasingly American women, is ethically unacceptable.  Yet such abandonment will continue as long as those who seek to challenge this extremist threat to women choose a political, rather than a human rights approach to addressing this issue.  Those who seek a political approach of division and partisanship on such topics will inevitably prevent us from reaching the consensus of Americans that do believe in such women’s human rights issues.  Reaching such a consensus on these human rights issues is a core mission goal of the Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) group.  We see how American government leaders today continue to ignore such vital women’s rights issues.  Regarding the nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the American government’s recent list of objectives and metrics fails to make such human rights our top priority.  But we will have no effective security policy and no effective counterterrorism policy without prioritizing human rights first.  Not only does our Afghanistan and Pakistan policy not prioritize women’s human rights, it does not prioritize human rights period.  We cannot afford to continue such government actions that are unwilling to be serious about these issues.

Denial is not the only form of such political neglect of women’s human rights. Not being serious about such women’s rights issues can also be seen in the nonsensical political outrage demonstrated in the Netherlands this week.  If you are concerned about the global challenge of extremists’ threats to women, but you are not embarrassed by the outrageous call by Geert Wilders to tax Muslim women’s headscarves in the Netherlands, you should be asking yourself why.

Radio Netherlands reported on Mr.Wilder’s proposal:  “Any Muslim woman who wants to wear a headscarf – which he described as a ‘head-rag’ – would have to apply for a license, and pay one thousand euros for the privilege… He would not tax the Christian form of the headscarf, but he did not say how policy would make that distinction.”  Mr. Wilders has also called for banning the Qur’an and stopping the building of new mosques.  Political outrage may be good for Mr. Wilder’s political campaigns, but such outrage, anti-freedom platforms, and such recent nonsensical suggestions — all detract from the public understanding of the very serious mortal threat against the world’s women today.

If we seek to improve the condition of Muslim and non-Muslim women threatened by extremist misogyny, oppression, violence, and murder, we need human rights representatives that are dependent on facts, not theatrics, and that are focused on inclusion, not division.  Accepting academic tolerance of the ongoing suffering of women, accepting human rights groups’ refusal to acknowledge an ideological threat behind such misogyny, and accepting political polarities of total denial and absurd division — are all unacceptable options for our generation.

The world’s women deserve better than this.