Women's Rights in the Muslim World and the Age of Obama

Author:Adrien K. Wing - Peter P. Nadimi
Position:Bessie Dutton Murray Professor at the University of Iowa College of Law - J.D. University of Iowa College of Law 2010, B.A. University of Minnesota 2006.
Pages:431-463
SUMMARY

I. Introduction - II. Role of International Law in U.S. Foreign Policy toward the muslim world - III. Women‘s rights in the muslim world - A. Palestine - B. Afghanistan - IV. Recommendations for the Obama Administration - A. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW") - B. International Violence Against Women Act ("IVAWA") - C. Education - D. Economic... (see full summary)

 
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Women’s Rights in the Muslim World and the Age of
Obama
Adrien K. Wing* & Peter P. Nadimi**
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................ 431
II. ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY TOWARD THE
MUSLIM WORLD .......................................................................................... 433
III. WOMENS RIGHTS IN THE MUSLIM WORLD ........................................... 437
A. Palestine ........................................................................................... 441
B. Afghanistan ...................................................................................... 445
IV. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ...................... 447
A. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (“CEDAW”) ............................................................ 448
B. International Violence Against Women Act (“IVAWA”) ................. 451
C. Education ......................................................................................... 454
D. Economic Empowerment ................................................................. 455
E. Office of Global Women‟s Issues in the State Department ............. 457
F. U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative ........................................ 458
G. United Nations Observer Missions ................................................. 459
H. Supporting Women‟s Rights Activists in the Muslim World ......... 460
V. CONCLUSION .......................................................................................... 462
I. INTRODUCTION
Women around the world continue to face human rights abuses, condoned
in part by deeply held patriarchal customs and religious practices, as well as
insufficient resources and lack of political will.
1
The Muslim World is no
exception. Muslim women face a variety of issues, including but not limited to
* Adrien K. Wing is the Bessie Dutton Murray Professor at the University of Iowa College of
Law. Author of over 100 publications, she advised on constitutions for South Africa, Palestine,
and Rwanda. A.B. Princeton 1978, M.A. UCLA 1979, J.D. Stanford 1982.
** J.D. University of Iowa College of Law 2010, B.A. University of Minnesota 2006.
1
Adrien K. Wing & Samuel P. Nielson, An Agenda for the Obama Administration on Gender
Equality: Lessons from Abroad, 107 MICH. L. REV. FIRST IMPRESSION 124, 125 (2009), available
at http://www.michiganlawreview.org/articles/an-agenda-for-the-obama-administration-on-
gender-equality-lessons-from-abroad; see also Gila Stopler, ―A Rank U surpation of Power”—The
Role of Patriarchal Religion and Culture in the Subordination of Women, 15 DUKE J. GENDER L.
& POLY 365, 367372 (2008) (explaining that culture and religion have led to patriarchal
structures that have hindered women‘s ability to achieve equality).
432 TRANSNATIONAL LAW & CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS [Vol. 20:431
poor access to education;
2
lack of career opportunities;
3
―domestic‖ and
external violence;
4
forced marriages;
5
restricted participation in public life;
6
and unequal inheritance rights.
7
While most of the solutions to these
problems must come from within each society, there can be a role for
carefully constructed, culturally respe ctful foreign assistance. Throug h the
Obama Adminis tration‘s n ew approach tow ards international law and
engagement with the Muslim World, the United States may be in a cri tical
position to make a lasting impact on women‘s human rights issues.
This Article will first present suggestions on how the Obama
Administration can improve women‘s rights in the Muslim World.
Specifically, it will provide foreign policy recommendations that will socially,
economically, and politically empower women. The Article will place special
emphasis on the need to provide financial support and other reso urces for
programs in the Muslim World that will counteract violence against women.
Second, it will recommend increasing access to, and improving the quality of,
education fo r women in Muslim-majority countries. Third, it will emphasize
the need to empower women economically by integrating them into the
workforce. Finally, it will discuss the importance of women‘s participation in
the political process and its role in impro ving women‘s rights in the Muslim
World. In implementing this agenda, the United States must be very careful
not to appear as an imperialist nation attempting to implement Western
―feminist‖ ideals or as favoring women over men.
Part II of this Article will begin by briefly addressing the Obama
Administration‘s approach to the ro le of international law in U.S. foreign
policy and co ntrasting it to the Bush Administration‘s approach. An
administration‘s general view toward international law is important to its
foreign policy because it has considerable bearing on its engagement tactics
2
See infra Part III (discussing issues regarding women's access to education in the Mus lim
World).
3
See infra Part III (discussing women‘s difficulty accessing career opportunities in the Muslim
World).
4
See infra Part III (discussing violence against women in the Muslim World).
5
See Adrien Wing & Hisham Kassim, The Future of Palestinian Women‟s Rights, 64 WASH. &
LEE L. REV. 1551, 1561 (2007) [hereinafter Tunisian Progress] (explaining that the law in
Palestine requires that a father consent to his daughter‘s marriage, regardless of his daughter‘s
age); see also Hannibal Travis, Freedom or Theocracy?: Constitutionalism in Afghanistan and
Iraq, 3 NW. J. INTL L. 4, 69 (2005) (explaining that the Taliban‘s strict religious traditions
continue to influence parts of Afghanistan by forcing young girls into marriage through the
threat of imprisonment).
6
See Susan Tiefenbrun, The Semiotics of Women‟s Human Rights in Iran, 23 CONN. J. INTL L. 1,
16 (2007) (explaining that women‘s involvement in public life is limited because they are limited
to activities in the home).
7
See Tunisian Progress, supra note 5, at 1560, n.65 (explaining that Palestine and Tunisia only
guarantee women half the inheritance amount that a man receives).
Spring 2011] WOMENS RIGHTS IN THE MUSLIM WORLD 433
with the international community, in this case, specifically the Muslim
World.
After this gener al discu ssion, Part III of this Article will discuss four of
the most crucial women‘s rights issues facing the Muslim World: 1) violence
against women;
8
2) access to education; 3) eco nomic empowerment through
participation in the workforce; and 4) involvement in the political process.
This Ar ticle will then explore these topics in greater depth in two places of
particular importance to U.S. foreign policyPale stine and Af ghanistan.
Both are societies where the United States is investing considerable amounts
of money and effort, and it is important that women are not overlooked as
recipients of those benefits.
Part IV provides recommendations for the Obama Administration to
improve women‘s rights in the Muslim World. Part V concludes the Article.
II. ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY TOWARD THE
MUSLIM WORLD
The Obama Administration‘s rhetoric and actions during its first year in
office seemed to signal an approach that embraced international law and
engagement with the international comm unity. This was a distinct shift
away from the Bush Administration‘s view s. During President Bush‘s two
terms, the United State s took a very unilateral approach toward engagement
with the international community.
9
The Bush Administration did not fully
respect the United Nations and other multilateral ins titutions.
10
Furthermore, the Bush Administration chose not to adhere to one of public
international law‘s primary authorities, the Geneva Conventions.
11
A barrage
of scho lars acknowled ged the Bush Administration‘s disregard for
international law.
12
A few of the Obama Administration's major actions dur ing its first year
in office signaled a welcoming attitude towards compliance with international
8
In terms o f the first topic, violence, while women in both Palestine and Afghanistan can face
significant violence from outside forces, this Article will focus on family or domestic violence.
9
Michael J. Kelly, Charting America‟s Return to Public International Law Under the Obama
Administration, 3 J. NATL SECURITY L. & POLY 239, 239 (2009).
10
Id. at 242.
11
Id. at 243.
12
See, e.g., Noam Chomsky, Dominance and its Dilemmas, BOSTON REVIEW (Nov. 2003),
http://bostonreview.net/BR28.5/chomsky.html (arguing that the Bush Administration‘s military
actions related to the Muslim World convey a disdain for international law and related
institutions); Noah Feldman, Op-Ed., A Prison of Words, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 18, 2009, available at
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/opinion/19feldman.html (noting that the Bush
Administration would bypass international law to ―defend the country‖); Oona Hathaway, Why
We Need International Law, NATION, Nov. 1, 2007, available at
http://www.britannica.com/bps/additionalcontent/18/27299974/Why-We-Need-International-Law
(click on ―View entire article—PDF‖) (arguing that the Bush Administration has disobeyed
international law on many occasions).

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