By Suna Akyuz
The problem perhaps with women’s rights issues is the use of the word women. It is a simple problem with detrimental effects to the cause. The word women is alienating to half the world population, and misleading to even its proponents, because the fact is, and let’s be clear, the issue of women’s rights is a human rights issue.
To rephrase, women’s rights concerns everyone. Especially men, especially women. So why is it that even in the United States we have a hard time advancing this cause?
Women’s rights has to be a human rights issue, because it is imperative that everyone is involved, especially the men. We need male leaders alongside female leaders in positions of power to push this agenda through. The fact that women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar in the U.S., and that it only took 44 administrations to pass the Equal Pay Act, which President Obama bolstered with two executive orders on April 7th, and is a startling reminder that we still have some unfinished business.
“When women succeed, America succeeds,” Obama said in a speech prior to signing the order. The statement echoes the idea championed by women’s groups, especially in the developing world, that when women succeed, the family succeeds, and business and education see significant boosts. Simply, women’s progress is human progress.
In the U.K. Dfid’s Twitter page, a recent graphic said, “In the Game of Life, the hardest setting is Young Girl in a Developing Country,” and stated that 1 in every 9 girls in the developing world is forced into marriage before their 15th birthday. Forget about a quinceañera, scrap the sweet sixteen, because by the time your finished with your hour lunch break two innocent, sweet girls under the age of 18 will have been forced into marriage (and that’s 14 million girls each year according to Girlguiding).
It is hard to champion women’s rights as human rights when the United States has not yet ratified the U.N.’s Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a.k.a. CEDAW, thus stalling the issue at home. This symbolic malaise has put the U.S. right alongside Iran, Somalia, and Sudan, and one less influential voice behind the issue, makes it that much more difficult to advocate policy and programs in countries like Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan.
The fact that 57% of girls are married by the age of 16 in Afghanistan is only made worse when we see that child marriage only perpetuates a cycle of gender inequality, domestic abuse, and poverty. There goes your human progress. This is only one of the topics that the documentary “Honor Diaries” attempts to show audiences. While successful screenings in the United Nations headquarters and Geneva office took place, however, screenings were canceled at two other locations with claims that the movie was anti-Islamic.
In “Honor Diaries,” nine female activists bring attention to the challenges faced by women in Muslim-majority countries, especially honour violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. In an article last week, Ms. Wente points out that “Western feminists are curiously silent about these issues,” perhaps from fears of being called racists.
As a Muslim-American woman, I can only say that the biggest hurdle for many of us is misinformation and mis-education (even in the West), which perpetuates misunderstanding and fear. That is our hurdle to overcome.
We need to read more, learn more, and stand together on these issues; white women, brown women, all women and men.
And as a practicing Muslim, it is important to point out that no hadith or surah supports such violent acts like female genital mutilation. That is not Islamic; rather, it is the misinformed Islamist cultures’ belief, which actually stray far from the faith. So, please do not use Islam as the reason or excuse, because you would be wrong on both accounts.
On the eve of Women’s International Day this year, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, told a U.N. audience that “the rights of women and girls remains the unfinished business of the 21st century. No country, including my own, has achieved full participation.”
This is why advocating for women’s human rights is so vital. Because it puts the responsibility on all of us.
There is no excuse.
No, you may not sit quietly because you are a man.
No, you may not use racism or narrow mindedness as an excuse.
There is no version of women’s rights for Islam or Western nations or developing nations. There is only the single understanding that gender inequality anywhere is unacceptable. Silence is not an option anymore.
For goodness sake, it is 2014, and perhaps it might be too much to expect hover boards or flying cars that nicely fold into briefcases, but I sure as heck expect that we do what we can within the power we have to eliminate inequality that endangers women and girls chances for a well deserved life.
Why is this on all of us? Because the current world order happened on everyone’s watch. And it will take collective commitment by everyone to change it.
CULTURE IS NO EXCUSE FOR ABUSE
Honor Diaries is a movement movement to inspire people to learn more about issues facing women in Muslim-majority societies.
Suna Akyuz is a social entrepreneur and researcher, and currently the Director of Operations at Sante Natural, a non-profit organization. As a young Muslim Turkish-American woman, empowering the rights of women have been an important challenge to face both in her personal and professional life. Currently, she is co-starting an organization that nurtures skills and livelihoods of Muslim women in India and Turkey, and encourages Muslim girls in developed countries to partner in empowering themselves and working women. She currently works from New York, and can be contacted at SunaAkyuz@gmail.com.
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