Running a human-rights-oriented foreign policy is a challenge, even for the Swedes. In October Sweden became the first Western government to recognise the state of Palestine. Margot Wallstrom, the foreign minister, was duly invited to address a meeting of the Arab League on March 9th. Ms Wallstrom wrote a rather anodyne speech exhorting the member states to live up to their commitments on human rights, particularly women’s rights. Saudi Arabia objected, and the league blocked her from speaking. Now Sweden’s relations with much of the Arab world are in shambles.Ms. Wallstrom is coming under some pretty heavy fire for her intentions to speak up for the rights of women. The Arab League publicly condemned her - calling her cancelled speech an offense, not only to Saudi Arabia, but to Islam.
It is the equating of standing up for women's rights to the current fervor of Islamophobia in both Europe and the U.S. that is meant to silence those who would speak out against state-sanctioned misogyny. That's where we need to weigh in.
This can be a difficult line to walk for many of us. I know that nothing makes me more angry than to hear people like Bill Maher justify his Islamophobia by condemning the treatment of women in many Islamic countries. He usually couples those remarks with statements about how Western countries abandoned that kind of thing decades ago. In other words, he completely ignores facts like this:
- 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
- The American Medical Association estimates that their male partners assault 2 million American women each year.
- According to the U.S. Surgeon General, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States.
- Each day .....4 women die as a result of abuse.
- Each day .....3 children die as a result of abuse.
No...I'm certainly not making a case for moral equivalency between the United States and countries like Saudi Arabia when it comes to the treatment of women. What I'm saying is that we have to approach these discussions with humility and with our eyes wide open to the facts.
On the other hand, we must reject the idea that standing up for women's rights is an affront to any religion. Almost every religion on earth (including Christianity) has been used at one point or another to justify misogyny. The particulars are irrelevant. Women are human beings and, as Hillary Clinton declared years go, "women's rights are human rights."
People are free to practice the religion of their choosing. As feminists, we respect that and stand up for their rights to do so. But that gives no one license to abuse and/or oppress women. That's the line we must walk...loud and proud!