Recently, I listened as Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski spoke on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" hosted by former Congressman Joe Scarborough and Brezezinski's daughter, Mika, reviewing the appointment of John Kerry as Secretary of State, in comparison to the four-year term of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He pointed out that Kerry (and likely Defense Secretary Hagel) will be more "strategic" and more focussed on regional issues, particularly in the Far East, whereas Ms Clinton was more focussed on the issue of human rights, especially as it pertained to women's rights.
It did not strike me at the moment I heard that comparison, but in light of what appears to be happening to women around the world, (see stories below from Canada, Syria, Pakistan) there is a case to be made that human rights, and particularly women's rights, need to be positioned much higher on the totem pole of issues included in the foreign policy files of all countries and especially of the United States adn Canada.
"Strategic issues," is code for relations between countries, and potentially armies, navies, airforces and diplomats, as in traditional "power relationships" of the kind that either warns of potential wars, or of potential peace agreements, treaties, for example, on the deployment of nuclear weapons. Once again, this time from the former Head of the National Security Council, under President Jimmy Carter, the issue of human rights, including women's rights, is downgraded as if it were the purview, however, legitimate, of a woman Secretary of State, and not a "real" (read male) Secretary of State.
The Roman Catholic church has a centuries-long dogma refusing to permit women to become priests, and of course, any and all ranks in the church hierarchy above that of simple cleric.
Much of the deep divide between Islam and the "West" is directed toward what is perceived by most in the west as the equality of women. We accept it; we honour our women, to a much greater degree than in many countries where Islam is the dominate faith, regardless of the specific sect. Clearly, the radicals in Islam, and among the Taliban, want women to be as we used to say of some families in the west, "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen" and certainly not engaged in a full and rewarding education or profession. Not all segments of Islam, it is true, abuse their women, at least from a western perspective.
From,The Position of Women in Islam, by Hamdun Dagher, Chapter Two, The Status of Women, from Light of Life website, February 13, 2013
There is no Qur´anic distinction between the Muslim and the non-Muslim woman in terms of her status as a biological social being since men are, on principle, in charge of women, and the male is not like the female (Sura Al Imran 3:36). One can understand the prevailing mentality at the time with the aid of the Qur´anic criticisms of the habits of the Meccan idolaters: "Have you considered al-Lat and al-Uzza, and Manat the third, the other? What, have you males, and He females? That were then an unjust division!" (Sura al-Najm 53:19-22). The Qur´an, which condemns the Arab's live burial of girls, conveys to us, at the same time, the prevailing conception of the woman at that time: "And when any of them is given the good tidings of a girl, his face is darkened and he chokes inwardly, as he hides him from the people because of the evil of the good tidings that have been given unto him, whether he shall preserve it in humiliation, or trample it into the dust" (Sura al-Nahl 16:48,59).
If we accept what the Qur´an said about the woman in the pre-Islamic era and what the Muslim historians recorded (trying their best to prove that Islam improved the position of the woman and promoted her from the bottom of the pit to an honourable life), we must admit that Islam was unable to realise a reformation in this arena, for the simple reason that the same conceptions of women still persist in most Islamic countries today. One of the most important reasons for this phenomenon was the pragmatic approach that Muhammad followed, which adopted even the pre-Islamic (Jahili) traditions(1) to uphold his own cause. His ultimate goal was not to establish a new moral code, but to achieve a final triumph for the Shahada, which states, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah," and to force the Bedouins to recognise Allah's sovereignty over all the gods.
As mentioned above, the most important Qur´anic verse the jurists cite as proof of the claim that women are inferior to men is: "Men are the managers of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property" (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:34). Al-Tabari says, "By this God (may He be highly praised) means that men are in charge of their women in chastising and restraining them regarding their obligations for God and themselves."(2) He makes further comments, which we will cite: "Ibn Abbas narrated that he said, [Men] are commanders and [the woman] has to obey him in all that God commands her to obey him. Obedience to man is being good to his family." Al-Dhahhak narrated: "Man is in charge of the woman commanding her to obey God. If she refuses, he has [the right] to give her a mild beating, and he had the advantage over her on account of what he provides for her and what he earns." Al-Suddi said, "They should restrain and discipline them."(3)
As to the reason why this verse was given, it is said that a man struck a woman, and she came to the Prophet seeking punishment. The prophet passed his judgment between them, and this verse was revealed, "And hasten not with the Qur´an ere its revelation is accomplished unto you" (Sura Ta Ha 20:114). The verse "Men are the managers of women" (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:34) was also revealed.(4) Ibn Abbas says in a tradition that by "for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another," (Sura al-Nisa´ 4:34) the Qur´an meant that "God preferred men to women by the former's [sound] mind, dividing of the portions in the booty and inheritance."(5)
Muhammad `Abduh "the Reformer" (1905-1949), who was known for his hostile attitude toward blind tradition, has discovered new aspects of man's superiority over women in this verse: "This superiority is based on two factors; the one has to do with nature, while the other has to do with earning. The natural one consists in the fact that man's disposition is stronger, more accomplished, complete, and beautiful. Perhaps it strikes you as odd that man is more beautiful than woman. Beauty has to do with the completeness and perfection of natural disposition. As far as his living body, man is nothing more than an animal, for the physical nature of both is the same. We see the males of all animals more accomplished and more beautiful than the females, such as you see in the rooster and the hen, the ram and the ewe, and the lion and the lioness. The hair of the beard and the moustache is of the characteristics of the perfection and beauty of man's nature, therefore the hairless man is considered imperfect in nature and wishes he could find a medicine that would cause his hair to grow, even if he were used to shaving his beard. In consequence of this, men are strong in character [disposition], perfect in nature, sound in mind, and of sound judgement in the foundation and end of everything. Doctors and scientists say, 'Sound in body, sound in mind.' It follows then that men are perfect in tasks having to do with earning, for they are more capable of earning a living, inventing, and tackling affairs of everyday life. For this reason they have been commanded to stand above women, protect them, and to carry the onus of general presidency in the milieu of the domestic life of the family. For it is vital that every society should have a president to whom people ought to refer in the standardisation of public welfare."(6)
Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad (1889-1964), one of the most renowned Arab men of letters in the twentieth century, sets an enviable record in his attacks on women. He says, "Woman has been engaged in preparing food since mankind started cooking in pre-historic times. She has learned it since childhood in the dwelling-places of the family or the tribe. She likes food and craves for it. Yet after she inherited this occupation for thousands of years, she is still not as good at it as the man who dedicates a few years to it. She keeps up with him neither in the high quality of well-known dishes nor in innovating new varieties of improved ones. She is unable to manage a kitchen in which several females and males work together. The same goes for the craft of embroidery and tailoring, which are among the old-time crafts women practised at home. Women rely on men to make their clothing rather than on themselves." Women, as al-Aqqad claims, have no part in knowledge or scientific thinking, even the well-known women in the field of science could not attain any success but for the support and guidance of the men, "The name of Madame Curie is the first name that is mentioned by those who maintain full equality of the two sexes. Even if it is true that this lady matches first class male scientists, this will always remain an undeniably rare exception. The truth about this specific lady keeps her from being reckoned among the exceptional cases in scientific researches, since she did not work apart from her husband and since her work was neither concerned with invention nor with innovation."(7) As to hypocrisy and double-dealing, these are two inherent characteristics of women: "Female hypocrisy, which can be attributed to women especially, is due to a certain weakness in womanhood that she abides by in every society, and is not imposed on her by manners or laws. She does not part company with it by choice or by force- she may even refuse to do so if the choice was hers... There is a major difference between man and women in sexual intercourse- in most days of her period the sexual desire is separated from the reproduction instinct, whereas the sexual desire for man is never an amusement."(8)
This al-Aqqad who is viewed by many people in the east and the west as a genius, believes that woman is a necessary evil, and that she does not possess any talent or virtue at all. "There are none among the estimable ethics of women that are more characteristic of and natural to her femininity than these three qualities: bashfulness, compassion, and cleanliness. She depends on these in her nature or in man's nature. This should have been rather her practice in all the other qualities that men mastered from old... The inborn compassion is not fit for evaluating woman's mercy, since it has to do with what the psychic forces and the power of conscience enjoin on her. It is the comparison between women's and man's compassion for the children of others that is fit as a standard of evaluation. Man could be seen showing compassion for his step-children as much as he does his own, treating them equally even if it were out of courtesy and consideration. Woman, however, behaves differently in her treatment of her step-children; the children sometimes do not escape torture, malevolence, deliberate humiliation, and harm."(9) "The primary point of reference regarding morals with women is sexual restraint, which is an instinct that the female animals have in common, and is not a willful act that distinguishes mankind in particular. There are worlds of difference between this sort of sexual restraint and the virtue of bashfulness, which is regarded as a human moral virtue."(10)
Regarding the advantages man has over women, Ahmad Shalabi says, "He is taller than she, his bones are bigger, and she weighs less than he does. His muscles are stronger, his brain is bigger than hers, and likewise his heart."(11) The sayings of Muhammad concerning women that could be culled from the Hadith do not speak in her favour. There are traditions indicating that Muhammad describes women as though they were deficient in intelligence and understanding. Abu Sa`id al-Jundi narrated: Once the Messenger of God went out to a prayer place to offer the prayer of Greater Bairam or a Lesser Bairam. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you [women]." They asked, "Why is it so, Messenger of God?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "What is deficient in our intelligence and religion, Messenger of God?" He answered, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in your intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. "This is the deficiency in your religion," he said.(12)
In Islamic theological sources, it is put forward as an evidence of the women's deficient intelligence that there is none among them who was known for being knowledgeable or a genius. "As to the deficiency of intelligence, it is known that women have rarely minds as good as men. Perfection and excellence are rarely and exceptionally found among them. Women of reasoning and good discretion are very few in number. Men of this quality, however, are countless."(13) The scholastic expert of fiqh, who showed this magnificent proof of the deficiency of women's minds, could have found the main reason for this in the Hadith of Muhammad: "Do not let [women] into all of the rooms, and do not teach them how to write. Teach them to spin and recite Sura al-Nur."(14) Or "Do not let your women live in rooms, do not teach them how to write, and seek assistance against them. Constantly tell them 'No', because 'Yes' tempts them to ask a lot."(15)
One who studies the sayings of Muhammad pertaining to women cannot help but question why women were created. "One woman, of 99 women, is in heaven, and the rest of them are in Fire."(16) "Fire has been created for the senseless, the women, except for the one who obeyed her husband."(17) "Men perish when they obey women."(18) "Men are in a good state as long as they do not obey women."(19)
Muhammad gives us another reason why men should fear and beware of women: "Beware of women; the first temptation among the Children of Israel was caused by them;"(20) "I fear no temptation that would befall my people but for the temptation of women and wine;"(21) and "But for the woman, man could have entered paradise."(22)
The woman has no right to behave as though she possesses any authority or influence over her husband, for Muhammad "forbade women to talk except by leave of their husbands."(23) Also "Women are not allowed to go out except out of necessity, but for the occasion of the two feasts: The Greater Bairam and the Lesser Bairam. They are also not allowed to walk down the roads, but keep to the edges of the street."(24) "Women are not allowed to use the middle of the road."(25) "Women are not to be greeted nor to greet."(26) "A believing woman is the same among women as a white-footed raven among the ravens. Fire has been created for the senseless, and women are the most senseless of all."(27) If the woman wanted to clear herself of this charge, she had to serve her husband.(28)
In another tradition Muhammad described women as "unclean" creatures. In a Hadith, Muhammad says, "Three things corrupt prayer: Women, dogs, and donkeys."(29) "The Messenger of God said, 'A man's prayer is interrupted if a donkey, black dogs, and women pass by him nearby.' So I said, 'What difference is there between the red one, the yellow one, and the white one?' He said, 'My brother, I asked the Messenger of God just as you asked me. He said, "The black dog is a devil." ' "(30) In a another tradition given by Ibn Abbas, the fire-worshipper, the Jew, and the pig are listed alongside the woman as things that corrupt prayer. The prayer of a Muslim is corrupted if "they pass by him as far as a rock could be thrown."(31)
The rise in consciousness of the religion of Islam, among western nations and people, must not be a wedge that brings all the achievements of the last half-century in women's equality, to naught, or even to a decline or atrophy of those achievements.
It would appear to this observer, that Dr. Brzezinski spoke as a voice from the past, insofar as his down-grading of Secretary Clinton's courageous and visionary work in all world capitals, on behalf of women everywhere, and that "strategic" interests and issues must no longer, (as they would in a man's world) take precedence over human rights issues, especially women's rights, if we are to provide a world for our daughters and granddaughters where they can be confident they will be respected, honoured, valued and permitted, indeed encouraged to take their rightful place at all levels of government, academia, health care and corporate boardrooms.
Women's rights are human rights, and the "establishment" has not paid enough attention to their importance in shaping societies, including the lives of women and children in poor, undeveloped and underdeveloped countries. And that is a significant and increasingly potent factor in destabilizing both the families and the countries where such virulent discrimination is rampant, too often with impunity,
The current spate of rape charges, trials and investigations in too many countries, including especially Canada, are a cancer on the inevitable and worthwhile march to equality and freedom of women everywhere.
And, if Secretary Kerry mistakes the counsel from Dr. Brzezinski as road-map for his term in Foggy Bottom, he will do a great injustice to the cause of the liberation of young men and women, through formal education and access to opportunity around the globe. Secretary Clinton's forging a path through the jungle of dogmatic, even religious, sexism must not be left to grow over with the underbrush of either religious or secular patriarchy.
Naturally, we also agree with Liberal leader Bob Rae that Prime Minister Harper must call a national commission of inquiry to determine the facts in the Human Rights Watch report on the fate of aboriginal girls and women. That is the least that must be done. And where there is culpability, it must be removed and sanctioned.
Mounties raped, abused B.C. aboriginal girls, rights watchdog alleges in report
By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press in National Post, February 13, 2013
A new report by a respected international human rights watchdog has accused RCMP officers of abusing aboriginal women and girls in northern British Columbia.
New York-based Human Rights Watch uncovered one allegation of rape and others of assault by Mounties against aboriginals in rural B.C. communities.
The alleged incidents were uncovered as part of a broader investigation into charges of systemic neglect of missing and murdered aboriginal women along B.C.’s Highway 16, nicknamed the “Highway of Tears.”
Other reports and studies have documented the broader problem, but the new report details specific allegations of abuse by RCMP officers.
None of the allegations has been proven in court. The RCMP did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch undertook the investigation last year after a Vancouver-based agency approached it in 2011 complaining that authorities in Canada were not doing enough to address the problem.
“After years of hearing stories and doing our best to try and get some accountability, we felt we owed it to the girls to take the next steps, to try and get some kind of investigation and bring these allegations and abuses to light,” said Annabel Webb, the founder of the Vancouver group Justice for Girls, which works with poor, troubled teens.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the federal and B.C. governments to participate in a national commission of inquiry into the matter.
“At the end of the day, what we want to see is accountability. Accountability for police mistreatment of aboriginal women and girls,” said Meghan Rhoad, the report’s lead researcher.
“Policing is failing in terms of protection of indigenous women and girls in northern B.C., certainly based on our research.”
Researchers spent five weeks in 10 northern B.C. towns last summer and conducted 87 interviews with 42 indigenous women and eight indigenous girls from age 15 to 60.
The most serious allegation involved a woman who told researchers that she was raped and threatened with death by four RCMP officers after she was abused in a remote location.
Other allegations include: young girls being pepper sprayed and shocked with a Taser; a 12-year-old girl being attacked by a police dog; a 17-year-old girl being repeatedly punched by an officer; women strip-searched by male officers; and women injured by excessive force during their arrests.
“In 5 of the 10 towns Human Rights Watch visited in the north, we heard allegations of rape or sexual assault by police officers,” the report states.
“Human Rights Watch was struck by the level of fear on the part of women we met to talk about sexual abuse inflicted by police officers.”
Rhoad said about a dozen young women cancelled interviews with researchers because they were too scared of repercussions from police officers working in their small communities.
Samer Muscati, a Canadian co-researcher, said the level of fear among the women interviewed was on par with what he’s encountered while researching abuses by security forces throughout the Middle East, Iraq, Libya and Sudan.
“You expect that level of fear when you’re in a place like Iraq, in a post-conflict country where security forces are implicated in horrible abuses,” said Muscati.
“But in Canada, where police are known to protect citizens, it is quite alarming to hear the stories of women and girls, particularly.”
The report contains a number of testimonials from women whose identities have all been protected.
The most serious is from a homeless woman identified as Gabriella P., who described being raped by four Mounties. She told researchers she knew the names of the officers, but refused to provide them.
“I feel so dirty,” a tearful Gabriella is quoted as saying in the report. “They threatened that if I to anybody they would take me out to the mountains and kill me and make it look like an accident.”
Webb said it has been difficult to bring the allegations to light because the girls themselves don’t believe in the justice system.
Webb said she hopes that upstanding members of the RCMP are outraged enough by the report to drive out their more abusive colleagues.
“First and foremost, I’d like to see a stop to the abuse,” she said. “If we could just stop the abuse, that would be kind of a banner day.”
On Tuesday, Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call a royal commission or parliamentary inquiry in the broader issue.
“We know that along the highway that has unfortunately now been called the Highway of Tears, there are hundreds of women who have gone missing,” said Rae.
A stern-faced Harper responded by defending the Conservative record on confronting the issue of violence against women.
“This is a very strong concern for this government. That is why we have invested additional resources in police enforcement, in investigation and prevention, and we continue to look to ways that we can act,” Harper said.
“The murder and abduction of women in this country is completely unacceptable. We will continue to move forward with a vigorous criminal justice agenda to address these problems.”
New Delhi gang-rape case resulting in death of 23-year-old student to start Thursday in fast-track court
By Nirmala George, Associatd Press, in National Post, January 21, 2013
NEW DELHI — The trial of five men accused of the rape and murder of a student aboard a bus in New Delhi will begin Thursday and should have none of the long delays commonly associated with India’s justice system, a defense lawyer said after a brief hearing Monday.
Judge Yogesh Khanna denied a defense motion to make the proceedings public, ruling that the courtroom must remain closed because of the sensitive nature of the crime, said V.K. Anand, the lawyer for one of the defendants, Ram Singh.
The extreme brutality of the attack has sparked weeks of protests and focused national and international attention on India’s rarely discussed crisis of violence against women. Monday’s hearing was the first since the case was moved to a new fast-track court set up to deal specifically with crimes against women.
Syrian rape victims getting help from foreign police and health workers
British government is sending a team of 70 professionals to Syria’s borders to help treat rape victims and gather evidence for future prosecutions.
By Hamida Ghafour, Toronto Star, February 1, 2013 The British government has sent two police investigators to Syria's borders to help train a local charity in gathering evidence from Syrian rape victims, as a growing number of experts say women and girls assaulted in the war need urgent medical help and justice.
The police are part of a 70-member, permanent unit set up this week by the British Foreign Office focused on sexual violence in Syria and other conflicts.
Their mandate includes treating victims and preserving evidence for any future prosecutions.
Various rights groups say most of the attackers are from pro-government militias, but rebels are also raping women and girls, and the majority of the assaults happen at checkpoints or in home raids.
But it will be difficult for victims to come forward in a country that lacks an adequate justice system, said Neville Blackwood, a retired police officer who recently returned from an unspecified region on the borders of Syria where he helped train staff from a health charity.
The location of the training was not made public for security reasons.
“If you are going to have someone come forward in those circumstances, they have got to have confidence that the process will be conducted in a fair and transparent way,” he said in an interview posted on YouTube Friday.
The unit, believed to be the first of its kind set up by a government, also includes doctors, lawyers, psychologists and forensic scientists, all of whom are standing by to deploy.
The unit includes at least two Canadians. Brock Chisholm, 43, a clinical psychologist who was born in Nova Scotia, may be sent to Syria borders within a month to assess the needs of victims.
“There is going to be an enormous need,” he said. Chisholm works with Syrian refugees who have escaped to London, and he describes reports of sexual violence from patients as “horrendous.”
“The work I can do here is a drop in the ocean,” he said. “I hope the work I do in Syria will lead to prosecution, convictions, and that will reduce sexual violence in the future.”
Lara Quarterman agreed. The 32-year-old grew up in Calgary and specializes in sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
“The people involved in this (British-led team) are such skilled practitioners and taking risks and believe in what this unit is trying to achieve, and I believe in it, too,” Quarterman said in an interview from London.
More health services would give victims an incentive to come forward, others said.
Victims' needs “vastly outpace” what is available, said Mike Young, regional director of the International Relief Committee, which reported last month that rape was a main reason why families were fleeing Syria.
“Our case workers see firsthand the traumatic and tragic results of sexual assaults on Syrian women and girls,” he said.
“The international community must provide more prioritized funding for these most vulnerable Syrians.”
A donors' conference in Kuwait on Wednesday raised $1.5 billion to help civilians as part of a relief effort that the UN said has been severely underfunded.
If sexual assault survivors do not speak out, there is little hope of bringing attackers to justice, partly because Syria has not been referred to the International Criminal Court, said Renu Mandhane, director of the international human rights program at the University of Toronto, which is hosting a conference on sexual violence in Syria on Feb. 8.
“The other question is, who will be in a position to prosecute after the conflict is over?” Mandhane asked.
‘Never fearful’: Young Pakistani activist shot in the head by Taliban, Malala Yousufzai, had defied militant threats for years
By Saud Mehsud, Reuters, in National Post, October 10, 2012
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — A 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl campaigner shot by the Taliban had defied threats for years, believing the good work she was doing for her community was her best protection, her father said on Wednesday.
Malala Yousufzai was shot and seriously wounded on Tuesday as she was leaving her school in her hometown in the Swat valley, northwest of the capital, Islamabad.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying her promotion of education for girls was pro-Western and she had opposed them.
The shooting has outraged people in a country seemingly inured to extreme violence since a surge in Islamist militancy began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“She is candle of peace that they have tried to blow out,” said one Pakistani man, Abdul Majid Mehsud, 45, from the violence plagued South Waziristan region