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  • Double standards on women’s rights

    by Sunny
    27th November, 2007 at 8:42 am    

    Over at openDemocracy, Zohra Moosa (PP reader and commenter) is blogging on ‘16 days against gender violence‘ along with others.
    In her latest post she asks: ‘Is violence relative?‘

    What about practices that occur in other countries? Should I not be as concerned with the rape of a woman in Saudi Arabia as I am with that of a woman in the UK? And yet the American government has suggested that the recent decision to sentence a gang rape victim to 200 lashes is an ‘internal Saudi decision‘ that it shouldn’t be interfering with.

    Certainly the issue of state sovereignty is an important one, however America itself appears confused about its position. After all, it was the same government that justified invading Afghanistan in the name of women’s rights just a few years ago. As UncommonSense also suggests, it seems to me that the ‘cultural relativism’ card is less often about respect for difference and more often actually just another way of ignoring violence against women.

    No doubt the usual suspects will come along in a bit complaining about ‘anti-American bigotry’, but there is a wider point to be made here. Like Zohra, I believe that individuals and organisations should apply the same standards of human rights to everyone, equally. So what if the laws in Saudi Arabia are different, that is no excuse to say it is acceptable for a woman to be treated so badly. And why shouldn’t we hold governments to the same standards?

                  Post to

    Filed in: Current affairs,Sex equality

    11 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. The Heresiarch — on 27th November, 2007 at 9:02 am  

      To be fair to the Americans, the State Department spokesman was put on the spot; he described the sentence as “astonishing” and hoped it would be rescinded. Moreover, the Democrat (and now some of the Republican) presidential contenders have been quite outspoken in condemning the sentence, even though, if elected, they would have to deal with the Saudis.

      The real tragedy for women’s rights, I think, is what happened in Iraq after the invasion. Saddam Hussein was basically evil, but one of his few good points was a relatively enlightened approach to women’s rights. In many parts of that country, women are now unable to go out unaccompanied or unveiled, and religiously-motivated violence against women has spiralled. I think the Americans and British share much of the blame for this.

    2. Kesara — on 27th November, 2007 at 9:52 am  

      Like Zohra, I believe that individuals and organisations should apply the same standards of human rights to everyone, equally.

      Would be great if they did, just like asking India or China to strongly condemn the Burmese clampdown on protests. To take stronger and more public action can have serious repecussions on a diplomatic level. Saudi Arabia is possibly America’s ‘closest’ and most formidable ally in the Middle East, oil, arms contracts etc are all tied in the diplomatic string.
      There are certain issues which override these concerns; sadly, no matter how appalling we may consider this situation, it is of a lower priority than other vested interests.

      A greater uproar in the public forum on the other hand can counterbalance this - politicians can sway if they see a greater incentive to (ie: voting public happy).

      After all, it was the same government that justified invading Afghanistan in the name of women’s rights just a few years ago.

      Afghanistan wasn’t a US ally.
      In diplomacy you have to weigh the action & reaction against your vested interests. Morality can wait.

      If only things were different…

    3. zohra — on 27th November, 2007 at 11:16 am  

      The Heresiarch, the state dept has been ‘off the spot’ for some time now, more than enough to have come out with something stronger.

      Kesara, I’m not at all naive to the geopolitical backdrop. That was my point: cultural relativism is used as an excuse for ignoring violence against women when it is convenient/expedient.

      Also, it’s more insidious than just not commenting (or ignoring) heinous practices. As Cruella points out, when the UK recently and lavishly hosted King Abdulla, the Queen went so far as to say:

      the UK and Saudi Arabia should work together against those “who threaten the way of life of our citizens”.

      And as Cruella points out, the question begs:

      What Saudi Arabian “way of life”? Virtual perpetual house arrest for women, who are treated like goats and have no human rights whatsoever?

    4. sonia — on 27th November, 2007 at 12:03 pm  

      absolutely that’s why universal human rights are so important.

      isnt’ it ironic when countries who claim to be all interested in one god and one ummah business one set of morals etc etc. who then go around being all oh its our law! keep out. ( so of course they do have the advantage of being able to claim they think their God forbade x y z so of course they will follow, and then one either insults their interpretation of their religion, which only serves to piss them off..and then they just can say well you lot are infidels so what do you know. )

      saudi arabia is a nightmare place. and the man with the girl from qatif got raped too, and that seems to have escaped a lot of people’s attention. (like the judges, who keep saying the girl brought it on herself by being with a man in a car, thereby somehow ‘exciting’ the wrath of those rapists. (suggestion being somehow that it is not astonishing the action of those men, because she was being a ‘loose’ woman, and loose women invite such actions, but what about the rape of the man?) Most bizarre and most disgusting state of affairs.

      and amusingly with the US State Department - given how they claim that one of the reasons they are rushing around the world is to play “saviour”. of course we know that’s crap, but still, their lack of consistency ought to be held up. no one was even suggesting a “Liberal Intervention” - maybe just an acknowledgement that it is fucked up, and that they have plenty of ‘diplomatic’ pressure routes. Still, it just goes to show. Politicians -what can you expect from them. Nothing.

      (zohra, ive just seen your msg on fb - sorry, not been there for ages!)

    5. Natty — on 27th November, 2007 at 12:21 pm  

      Look the last thing countries need is people telling them what to do when those own countries own houses are not in order.

      An ethical foreign policy has to be just that. If you want America to critcise Saudi Arabia then why not also criticise Israel for it’s treatment of women? Palestinian women can die due to security restrictions. They can be beaten by settlers. So why is one to be commented on and one kept quiet?

      Why international headlines on one and not the other?

      American Politican Candidates are falling over themselves to bash Muslims and Mitt Rommey himself a minority said he wouldn’t have a Muslim as a senior member of his cabinet as their numbers are too low. Even though there are more Muslims than Mormons.

      So they are hardly setting an example themselves.

      Ethical Foriegn Policy has to be blind to allies and alliances.

    6. The Heresiarch — on 27th November, 2007 at 12:36 pm  

      Yes, Zohra, I’m sure the American government could have said more. On the other hand, I’ve yet to hear any British minister, or other politician for that matter, say ANYTHING.

    7. Natty — on 27th November, 2007 at 12:36 pm  

      In addition Ethical Foreign Policy then needs to be blind to religion.

      The Saudi case is widely reported. But equally in Christian countries in South America, teenage girls who are out past dusk are routinely raped and then denied abortion due to the Catholic Churches Policy on abortion.

      So why isn’t that condemned by Hilary Clinton who is simply out to get headlines.

    8. Soozy — on 27th November, 2007 at 3:01 pm  

      Ah yes, bombing women to liberate them, The greatest achievment of American and British foreign policy, don’t you just love these neo-cons?

    9. Shahzada Jamrud — on 27th November, 2007 at 3:19 pm  


      Amazing. In the space of one post, you have tried to change the topic to Israel.

      Is there no end to Muslim stupidity?

    10. Natty — on 27th November, 2007 at 5:07 pm  

      Shahzada - if you bothered to read what I said instead of inferring your own take then you would realise that what I was referring to was that ethical foreign policy cannot draw a distinction between allies.

      I simply quoted examples of Israel and South america to highlight that if there is to be condemnation for an act of ill treatment in one country then ethically it needs to be applied to others.

      It isn’t that hard a concept to grasp.

      Joy1 - Although the sentance on the woman was harsh, it wasn’t for rape it was for another offence - namely getting into a car with a non-relative. The Saudi argument being that if she was with a relative she would have been protected from the harm which befell her.

      Also to be fair to Sunny in his conclusion he did say;
      “So what if the laws in Saudi Arabia are different, that is no excuse to say it is acceptable for a woman to be treated so badly. And why shouldn’t we hold governments to the same standards?”

      So the condemnation is in the sentance above.

    11. ad — on 30th November, 2007 at 9:35 pm  

      After all, it was the same government that justified invading Afghanistan in the name of women’s rights…

      I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was motivated and justified by its alliance with and protection of the group that had just attacked US territory and killed several thousand of its citizens.

      Was I misinformed?

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