By Janet Fleischman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Janet Fleischman is a senior associate at the Global Health Policy Center of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (
@CSIS). The views expressed are her own.
President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa this month is focused on the pressing issues of economic growth and investment, democratization, and the next generation of African leaders. Yet a central element for achieving those goals is missing from the list – advancing the health and empowerment of women and girls. The Obamas have an opportunity to make this trip historic by explicitly committing the United States to focus on women and girls as a key pathway to progress for Africa. But will they seize it?
The President and First Lady can speak powerfully to African and global audiences on these issues. On January 30, President Obama issued an unprecedented presidential memorandum on advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls globally, calling it “one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time.” For many who worried that the energy and commitment that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought to those issues might dissipate with her departure, this high-level statement was most welcome. Many have also wondered whether Michelle Obama herself might become a champion for global women’s issues in the second Obama term, building on her support for women and girls in the U.S.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy about the situation in Turkey and her role in the upcoming documentary ‘Girl Rising,’ which is premiering this Sunday on CNN at 9 p.m. ET.
How does it look to you, from Cairo, what is going on in Taksim Square?
I think the most important thing about what's happening in Turkey is that for me, it seems like Turks are trying to find a middle ground or a third way between what used to be just kind of the Ataturk, nationalist way and the Islamist way, as modern as it is, of Erdogan. And for me, as a Muslim from the Middle East, that's really important.
You’ve spent 10 years in America and gone back to Cairo. Do you worry that while you would like to see a more secular republic, you're worried by Erdogan's Islamism or the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamism?
On the ground, that stuff is pretty popular. So when Erdogan has put in these moderate restrictions on the sale of retail alcohol or he talks about women being allowed to wear the head scarf, in my experience, all my friends in Istanbul hate him for it. But the country at large likes it, because [this is a] 99 percent Muslim country, most people are devout. That actually resonates a lot more than people think. I assume the same is true in Egypt. Do you worry that your preferences are actually the preferences of a very small urban, kind of educated class?
I often compare the Muslim Brotherhood and their platform to the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who love to tout moral values. It's very easy to tout moral values, to be against abortion, to be against same-sex marriage here. And in Egypt and in the Middle East, it's very easy to say I'm going to ban alcohol and I'm going to make sure that all girls can or should wear head scarves. That is too easy and that is a violation of people's rights.
On June 16, CNN will be premiering "Girl Rising," which documents extraordinary girls and how education can change the world. But what are some of the biggest challenges facing women and girls across the globe today? Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, answers readers’ questions about the challenges women face in the Middle East, Asia – and here in the United States.
Can you explain a little about how your organization works?
First, I want to thank those who sent in such great questions. Our primary methodology is documenting human rights violations through the voices of victims – so our researchers talk to people directly affected by abuse, violence and discrimination to document first-hand what has happened to them and the impact it has on their lives. We also speak to witnesses of abuses and, where possible, the alleged perpetrators. Over 30 years, we have built up a strong reputation that allows us access to high-level policymakers – the people who can actually make change happen for the victims. So, we use our research, the voices and faces of the victims, to pressure governments to act to stop abuse.
The culture of blaming the victim in rape cases is still common in India, writes “Shifra Samuel” on Facebook. What can the country do to tackle the problem?
This is a global problem, and one of the biggest barriers that rape survivors, be they women and girls or men and boys, face if they report the assault. Human Rights Watch has documented in many countries the way the criminal justice system, including police officers, medico-legal examiners, prosecutors and judges do not believe victims, refuse to investigate their complaints, and deny them access to justice.
By Malou Innocent, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute and can be followed @malouinnocent. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
During his recent unannounced visit to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with prominent female entrepreneurs and the captain of the women’s soccer team to discuss the hard-won progress of Afghan women and their uncertain future. Like his predecessor, Secretary Kerry has admirably pledged to prioritize women’s rights in his foreign policy agenda. But the underpinnings of this pledge – the entrenchment of women’s rights across Afghanistan – are beyond the ability of the United States to uphold. It is time to stop making promises we cannot keep.
If the past 12 years in Afghanistan (and Iraq) has taught us anything, it’s that we are not very good at spreading Western-style, Jeffersonian democracy – and all the attendant rights – to foreign cultures. In the end, our military and diplomacy cannot transform deep-rooted societal norms. The future of Afghan women deserves U.S. support, but not a false promise tied to the open-ended presence of U.S. troops.
By Rupert Knox, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Rupert Knox is a researcher on Mexico at Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
Less than a week ago, six Spanish tourists were allegedly raped in the holiday resort city of Acapulco in southern Mexico. The attack quickly made international headlines, and although local authorities initially appeared keen to downplay the story, spiraling public outrage and pressure from the Spanish authorities prompted a vow for a full investigation.
Sadly, those of us who follow events in this part the world were far from surprised by news of this truly dreadful crime – after all, thousands of women and girls in Mexico suffer sexual violence every year. Indeed, according to information Amnesty International presented to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2012, more than 14,000 women are victims of rape each year. The figure, based on data collected in 2009, also shows there were only 2,795 convictions that year. National studies, meanwhile, indicate that just a fifth of women report rape due to distrust in the justice system and fear, meaning the actual scale of sexual violence is likely to be far greater.
By Shreyasi Singh, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Shreyasi Singh is a New Delhi-based writer. The views expressed are her own.
There’s little about my life that should create a sense of fear. I’m in my early 30s. I have a good job as an editor at a business magazine in New Delhi. I am fortunate enough to live in an upscale gated community in a Delhi suburb – the kind of place that shields you from the daily exasperations of India’s power, water, traffic and noise pollution woes. I don’t even have to drive myself anymore – like many who are comfortably off in India, I have a driver. Yet, despite these considerable advantages, can I really describe myself as empowered? And more importantly – am I even free?
For a start, I don’t dare walk the few hundred feet to the nearby coffee shop near my home after 8 p.m. (Indeed, despite the wide, well-paved roads, it isn’t a pleasant walk at any time of the day). Too often, I don’t feel like I can stand at a crossing in Delhi and hail a cab without hunching my shoulders in hopes that my chest will be a little less obvious. And almost reflexively when on public transport, invisible antennae go up all over my body ready to sense the slightest unwanted touch or sign of harassment.
By Chen Reis, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Chen Reis is clinical associate professor and director of the Humanitarian Assistance program at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The views expressed are the author’s own.
Forty years ago, on January 22, 1973, American women won the right to legal abortion after the Supreme Court narrowly decided the landmark case of Roe v Wade. Shortly after the 1973 decision, members of Congress enacted the “Helms Amendment,” that states that "No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” This amendment has been incorrectly interpreted to restrict the access of women worldwide to comprehensive reproductive health care including abortions even in the case of rape, incest or medical necessity. At the moment that American women won the right to have power over their own fates, those in the most need around the world lost theirs.
A correct interpretation of the Helms Amendment would allow exemptions at least in cases of rape, incest and medical necessity. As implemented, however, the policy flowing from this amendment has restricted women’s access to abortion even in countries and circumstances where abortion is legal. This inconsistency was recently noted in a letter written by 12 members of Congress to President Obama in December. They pointed out that the current application of the Helms Amendment is inconsistent with other federal policy and requested that the president change how the policy is implemented.
By Heather Barr, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Heather Barr is Human Rights Watch’s Afghanistan researcher. Follow her @HeatherBarr1. The views expressed are her own.
In Afghanistan, this year’s observance of International Human Rights Day, December 10, began with the murder of a rights advocate.
An unknown gunman shot and killed Najia Sediqi, acting head of the Afghan government’s Department of Women's Affairs in the eastern province of Laghman, as she traveled to work that morning. Sediqi’s murder is appalling, but not surprising.
Sediqi had held her post only a few months following the murder of her predecessor, Hanifa Safi. Safi was killed on July 13, when an improvised explosive device attached to her car was remotely detonated. Safi’s husband and daughter and six other civilians were wounded. No one has claimed responsibility for Safi's murder, nor for Sediqi’s. There have been no arrests in either case.
By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is a fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and an associate professor of Texas Wesleyan School of Law. She serves as the president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. The views expressed are her own.
In October, in a blatant act of discrimination, a Muslim woman wearing a veil in an Oklahoma bank was reportedly told she had to be escorted from the door to the teller. The Valley National Bank in Tulsa stated that this was not an act of religious discrimination, but rather part of their “no hat, no hood” policy instituted to allow security to clearly identify and take surveillance pictures of customers.
But as Executive Director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Adam Soltani said, "singling out Muslim women or other people of faith who wear religiously mandated head coverings that do not hinder identification is inappropriate and discriminatory."
By Janet Walsh, Special to CNN
“If I looked nice, he hit me,” Ana L., a mother of five in Colombia, told me.
Ana (not her real name) detailed years of abuse by her partner. He beat her when she was pregnant, and hit her head so hard that she suffered permanent vision damage. She sought help from a prosecutor’s office, but they never charged him, and failed to offer Ana an order for protection. Ana said she lived in a two-room house with 14 people, and struggled to feed her children. A dismal situation, but Ana was anything but dismal the day we spoke earlier this year. Surrounded by strong women in a community organization fighting for women’s rights, Ana’s voice rang out as she described helping other women, as well as her plans to start her own business.
By Desmond Tutu, The Elders
Editor’s note: Archbishop Desmond Tutu is Chair of The Elders. In 2011 The Elders founded Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. This article was also published by the Skoll World Forum here. The views expressed are the author’s own.
On November 25, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is deeply saddening, though perhaps not shocking, to learn that around 70 percent of all women experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime. Despite the progress we have made, this world remains a cruel and arbitrary one for too many women and girls.
Do not be fooled, however: this is not some so-called “women’s issue.” After all, we know that more often than not, the violence suffered by women is inflicted by the men they share their lives with – their fathers, husbands, intimate partners. If the majority of women in this world have suffered at the hands of their men, how many millions of men must have hurt and abused women? How many millions of men have stood by and let it happen?
By CNN Global Public Square
For more “What in the World,” watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET
Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban opened fire on a school bus. Two girls were shot. At first, it seemed a familiar story. The Taliban, after all, has bombed hundreds of schools, especially those for girls.
But here's what's new: Mass protests ensued against the Taliban, and in favor of women. That's startling and refreshing in Pakistan.
This past week, thousands of demonstrators thronged to the streets to protest the Taliban's brutality towards women. They're rallying around one person, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai. Malala was one of the girls who was shot on that school bus. She was not an accidental target. The Taliban directly sought her out and shot her in the head. They wanted to kill not only Malala, but what she stood for. Here's why: