Middle East: Laura Bush on goodwill tour, but of any use to Muslim women?
Read on for Erica Ahmed's excellent take on Laura Bush's "goodwill tour" of the Middle East [an extremely painful reminder of Bush Jnr's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of women], and, more importantly, her acknowledgement of RAWA's continued courage in "speaking out as loudly as they can about the problems Afghan women face under the puppet government of Hamid Karzai"[an opinion which never sat well with Washington and which probably accounts for the US Feminist Majority and media's abandonment of RAWA once Bush Jnr's post-September 11 Christian crusades were underway].
Ahmed also raises the paramount, but frequently ignored or glossed over,issue of feminized poverty: "Women throughout the world suffer more from poverty than from any constraints imposed in the name of religion. This poverty can be attributed in no small part to the West, which shamelessly plundered the resources of the Third World as long as it could. America and other developed nations continue their exploitation of developing countries in both overt and surreptitious ways, undermining political stability, perpetuating indebtedness and deflating domestic industries".
Hope springs eternal that feminized poverty and its root causes may eventually prick the consciences of Laura Bush and the brotherhoods which dominate the Christian corridors of power! - Lynette
Pakistan -- Thursday June 9, 2005-- Jamadi Al Awwal 01, 1426 A.H.
Does the USA really help Muslim women? Erica Ahmed
In a much-needed effort to improve America's global image, U.S. First Lady Laura Bush has undertaken a goodwill tour across the Middle East. Her May 21 speech at the World Economic Forum in Jordan focused on improving the status of women in the region, offering yet another example of how the Bush Administration has co-opted the language of emancipation movements for purposes antagonistic to the ideas of freedom and liberty.
Laura Bush posited that Americans should be "partners in helping them (Muslim women) move forward". What sort of "partner" has America been to oppressed women globally?
America initially supported the fundamentalist movements which ultimately formed the Taliban government, unconcerned with the implications of sponsoring an oppressive regime so long as it countered the red menace of Communism. Meanwhile, Iraqi women crippled by economic sanctions held dying children in their arms. Economic stagnation profoundly impacted women's ability to care for themselves and their families.
While American feminist groups decried the Taliban's treatment of women, the government remained largely silent on the issue until the 9-11 tragedy turned the nation's eyes towards the Muslim world. Then formed the most unlikely of partnerships: left-wing feminists and the conservative, war-mongering Right.
In a similar effort to that being undertaken now, Laura Bush was paraded out in an effort to prove how much America values women, reframing the conflict overseas in terms of women's rights and freedom.
In early 2003, it was almost comical to see the librarian-cum-political wife standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation -- a left-wing group whose virulent feminist message conservatives normally sideline.
After 9-11, the courageous women of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) suddenly became the darlings of the West. Their surreptitiously shot footage of Taliban atrocities was played on Western media channels, in support of the premise that invading Afghanistan was in the interests of Muslim women.
Media coverage immediately following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has largely emphasized the improved status of women in those countries. Feel-good reports about women voting for the first time, working or going to school lent a rosy tint to American's vision of life in a war-torn country.
The U.S. media has largely ignored the true situation of women in Iraq and Afghanistan. In times of social upheaval, women's personal freedoms and physical safety are compromised. And for every man that suffers or dies in U.S. detention, there is a woman struggling to support her family alone in the midst of upheaval.
RAWA continues their work, speaking out as loudly as they can about the problems Afghan women face under the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. Their suffering continues in the face of violence and poverty. But the world ignores their cries because they no longer coincide with the American agenda.
Women in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and other nations have proven that, given the time to operate within a stable and viable system, Muslim feminists can create positive change for themselves. Women in the Islamic world know what their needs are. In places like rural Pakistan, issues of nutrition, access to health care and clean water are more important to many women than purdah or female literacy.
The world needs to respect the sovereignty of women in developing areas by letting them find their own voice, identify their own needs and operate within their own cultural context.
When a representative of the Bush administration stands up as an advocate for Muslim women's rights, it taints the idea of women's liberation with the same ugly brush as Quran desecration, abuse of Muslim male prisoners, and other atrocities which have so damaged America's image.
By generating the feeling that Islam is under attack, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have stymied internal efforts at progressive reforms. While women throughout the world can certainly benefit from resources like granting opportunities, intrusive or violent measures by the West are always a setback for feminist efforts.
To her credit, Laura Bush did not take the White House hard line on all issues. While acknowledging that the Newsweek story, which elicited so much controversy, was "damaging", Laura Bush said it was not entirely to blame for the violence it ignited. It was the "terrible happenings", such as the Abu Ghraib abuses that "really, really hurt our image," she explained.
Laura Bush told the World Economic Forum attendees that education and women's rights were two pillars of a vibrant democracy. As the forum attendees were leaders in the formulation of international economic policy, concern for women should have been directed towards the impacts of globalization and economic imperialism.
Women throughout the world suffer more from poverty than from any constraints imposed in the name of religion. This poverty can be attributed in no small part to the West, which shamelessly plundered the resources of the Third World as long as it could. America and other developed nations continue their exploitation of developing countries in both overt and surreptitious ways, undermining political stability, perpetuating indebtedness and deflating domestic industries.
If Laura Bush truly wishes America to be a "partner" in promoting the uplift of Muslim women, there is plenty of work to be done removing the barriers Western nations have placed before them. Through the mid-twentieth century, women in the United States faced oppression which in many ways mirrored the situation of women in nations today that happen to be largely Muslim. American women had the opportunity to become increasingly influential in their country, and they must accord their sisters in developing countries the same right.
When Muslim countries have the freedom to develop without being exploited by the West, without having culturally incongruent ideas forced upon them, Muslim women will certainly have the creativity and dynamism to uplift themselves.
"As freedom becomes a fact of life for rising generations in the Middle East, young people need to grow up with a full understanding of freedom's rights and responsibilities: the right to discuss any issue in the public sphere, and the responsibility to respect other people and their opinions," said Laura Bush.
One can only hope that this message is heard back home; that the American administration can find a way to have a positive, non-violent global influence that respects the rights of all people and the values of all cultures.
The writer is a freelance journalist and social activist based in Balochistan