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I. INTRODUCTION 431 II. ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY TOWARD THE MUSLIM WORLD 433 III. WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN THE MUSLIM WORLD 437 A. Palestine 441 B. Afghanistan 445 IV. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION 447 A. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW") 448 B. International Violence Against Women Act ("IVAWA") 451 C. Education 454 D. Economic Empowerment 455 E. Office of Global Women's Issues in the State Department 457 F. U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative 458 G. United Nations Observer Missions 459 H. Supporting Women's Rights Activists in the Muslim World 460 V. CONCLUSION 462
Women around the world continue to face human rights abuses, condoned in part by deeply held patriarchal customs and religious practices, as well as insufficient resources and lack of political will. (1) The Muslim World is no exception. Muslim women face a variety of issues, including but not limited to poor access to education; (2) lack of career opportunities; (3) "domestic" and external violence; (4) forced marriages; (5) restricted participation in public life; (6) and unequal inheritance rights. (7) While most of the solutions to these problems must come from within each society, there can be a role for carefully constructed, culturally respectful foreign assistance. Through the Obama Administration's new approach towards international law and engagement with the Muslim World, the United States may be in a critical position to make a lasting impact on women's human rights issues.
This Article will first present suggestions on how the Obama Administration can improve women's rights in the Muslim World. Specifically, it will provide foreign policy recommendations that will socially, economically, and politically empower women. The Article will place special emphasis on the need to provide financial support and other resources for programs in the Muslim World that will counteract violence against women. Second, it will recommend increasing access to, and improving the quality of, education for women in Muslim-majority countries. Third, it will emphasize the need to empower women economically by integrating them into the workforce. Finally, it will discuss the importance of women's participation in the political process and its role in improving women's rights in the Muslim World. In implementing this agenda, the United States must be very careful not to appear as an imperialist nation attempting to implement Western "feminist" ideals or as favoring women over men.
Part II of this Article will begin by briefly addressing the Obama Administration's approach to the role of international law in U.S. foreign policy and contrasting it to the Bush Administration's approach. An administration's general view toward international law is important to its foreign policy because it has considerable bearing on its engagement tactics with the international community, in this case, specifically the Muslim World.
After this general discussion, Part III of this Article will discuss four of the most crucial women's rights issues facing the Muslim World: 1) violence against women; (8) 2) access to education; 3) economic empowerment through participation in the workforce; and 4) involvement in the political process. This Article will then explore these topics in greater depth in two places of particular importance to U.S. foreign policy--Palestine and Afghanistan. Both are societies where the United States is investing considerable amounts of money and effort, and it is important that women are not overlooked as recipients of those benefits.
Part IV provides recommendations for the Obama Administration to improve women's rights in the Muslim World. Part V concludes the Article.
II. ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW IN U.S. FOREIGN POLICY TOWARD THE MUSLIM WORLD
The Obama Administration's rhetoric and actions during its first year in office seemed to signal an approach that embraced international law and engagement with the international community. This was a distinct shift away from the Bush Administration's views. During President Bush's two terms, the United States took a very unilateral approach toward engagement with the international community. (9) The Bush Administration did not fully respect the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. (10) Furthermore, the Bush Administration chose not to adhere to one of public international law's primary authorities, the Geneva Conventions. (11) A barrage of scholars acknowledged the Bush Administration's disregard for international law. (12)
A few of the Obama Administration's major actions during its first year in office signaled a welcoming attitude towards compliance with international law. First, the Administration's early call to close Guantanamo Bay indicated a regard for international concern and adherence to the Geneva Conventions. (13) While the Obama Administration has faced considerable domestic resistance and is still in the process of attempting to close that facility, most of the inmates at the detention center have been approved for removal or have been removed to other locations. (14)
A second indication of the U.S. shift toward an increasing recognition of international law is the U.S. involvement with the U.N. Human Rights Council. (15) The United States won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in May 2009. (16) The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, stated that the United States "ran for the Human Rights Council because this administration and indeed, the American people, are deeply committed to upholding and respecting the human rights of every individual." (17)
A third indication of its shift towards an increasing recognition of international law is the U.S. acknowledgment that waterboarding is indeed torture. (18) The Geneva Conventions prohibit such torture of prisoners. (19) As a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the United States may not commit such torture. (20) During the Bush Administration, questions surfaced about whether the United States violated international law due to its use of waterboarding during interrogations of certain prisoners. (21) Shortly after entering office, President Obama stated, "I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake," as a clear attempt to deviate from the previous administration's view towards torture and the international law of war more generally. (22) Obama Administration officials also expressed similar sentiments. (23) Through these expressions, it seems that the United States is now more committed to following the Geneva Conventions and abiding by its international law wartime obligations than it was under the Bush regime.
Obama and his administration have publicly acknowledged their intended change of course from the Bush Administration's approach. During his presidential campaign in 2008, Senator Obama conveyed his desire for international engagement and his discontent with the previous administration's methods. (24) Obama stated, "Promoting strong international norms helps us advance many interests ... Respect for international legal norms also plays a vital role in fighting terrorism ... [and because] the [Bush] administration cast aside international norms that reflected American values ... we are less able to promote those values abroad." (25)
Members of Obama's staff have reinforced this deviation from the previous administration's foreign policy toward international law. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's actions and expressions indicate that the Obama Administration is taking a new approach towards international law. (26) Additionally, Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Advisor at the U.S. State Department and former dean of Yale Law School, argued that the Obama Administration has shown a commitment to international law that will continue to shape its foreign policy. (27)
As part of the shift from its predecessor's views toward international law, the Obama Administration has embraced a change in foreign policy toward engaging the Muslim World. For example, the President gave two heralded speeches to the Muslim World in 2009. First, he made remarks in Ankara, Turkey, on April 6, 2009, (28) stating that the United States is not at war with Islam and that the United States and the Muslim World must work together to advance their mutual interests. (29) Second, the President gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt, on June 4, 2009, (30) where he discussed the commonalities between the United States and Islam and expressed the United States' desire to work with Muslim countries. (31) White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that this latter speech was an "important part" of the United States' engagement with the Muslim World. (32)
III. WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
As in other parts of the globe, human rights abuses against women in the Muslim World are a result of a variety of different factors, including patriarchal customs and religious traditions. (33) This Part will explore four areas where such abuse occurs: violence against women, access to quality education, economic empowerment, and involvement in the political process.
Violence against women is prevalent throughout the world today. Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, stated, "In many ways [today], we are seeing a pandemic of violence against women." (34) The Muslim World is not immune. For example, it is estimated that four out of ten women in Turkey are beaten by their husbands, due in part to the "patriarchal power relationship." (35) In Lebanon, more than 500 women each year seek assistance for domestic violence related incidents at women's centers across the country, as opposed to the family courts where they "don't treat men and women equally." (36) Experts on domestic violence in Lebanon consider 500 to be a conservative estimate. (37) Furthermore, in Iraq, concerns of increasing domestic violence incidents resulting from greater frustration due to instability have risen in the country since the U.S. invasion in 2001. (38) Finally, in Iran, a 2004-2005 survey found that over 65 percent of women had been victims of domestic violence at least once in their lives. (39) The increase in domestic violence in Iran has been attributed to, among other things, the "insufficient social and legal support for women in society." (40)
In addition to customary practices condoning physical chastisement, one of the prime contributing factors to the level of violence against women in the Muslim World is the idea of ta'ah or obedience. (41) In the Muslim faith, men and women have different responsibilities, despite being equal in the eyes of God. (42) Men often use the duty of ta'ah that women owe to men to justify men's physical violence towards women. (43) The alleged purpose behind women's obedience is to "keep the family unit running as smoothly as possible." (44) As an example of a duty that women owe to men, some Islamic jurists have found that a husband must give his wife permission before she can leave the home. (45) Conversely, while women owe a duty of obedience to men, men owe a duty of guardianship (qawama) to women. (46) These religious duties and the consequences of violating them became part of the legal systems over time. (47) If a woman violates her obedience duties, then a husband may turn to the judicial system, stop financially supporting her, (48) or hurt her physically with little constraint. As a result, many women remain in violent relationships since custom, religion, and the legal system intertwine to eliminate any remedies for them. (49)
A second area where women face discrimination around the world is in the field of education. Patriarchal practices in the Muslim World have created an environment where the education of women may be given little priority and at times receive society's disapproval. (50) Access to education can be dismal (51) and literacy rates for women in the Muslim World hover around (50) percent on average. (52) As evidence of these poor conditions, in Yemen, for example, only 45 percent of girls attend primary school and 15 percent of girls attend secondary school. (53) In Tunisia, only 6.9 percent of women have a college education. (54) In Palestine, males have higher literacy rates, more male children attend kindergarten, and more male students attend college than do females. (55) Conditions in Afghanistan seem to be the most disheartening, with literacy rates for women floating around a horrific 15 percent. (56)
Poor access to education is one of many factors that have led to another major issue facing women globally, including the Muslim World--lack of employability and thus a lack of economic empowerment. (57) While women's participation in the workforce has increased since the 1990s, women in the Muslim World still have low employment rates. (58) In Iran, for example, women only constitute 15 percent of the formal workforce, receiving labor law benefits such as paid holidays, pension, maternity leave, etc. (59) Furthermore, a 2006 census in Iran found that only 3.5 million women, compared to 23.5 million men, are salaried workers. (60) In Syria, only 11 percent of working-age women (age fifteen to sixty-five) are employed outside of the home. (61) Of this 11 percent, nearly 80 percent work in the agricultural sector. (62) Finally, in Saudi Arabia, women only account for a dismal 5 percent of workers. (63)
Among the difficulties faced by women, political empowerment is an area where some of the most progress is needed. The Muslim World has a lower percentage of women in parliament than any other region of the world. (64) As the prime example of poor political empowerment, women in Saudi Arabia are still not able to vote in elections or run for political office. (65) Dismal political involvement is also present in Bahrain, Yemen, and United Arab Emirates with no female representation and Lebanon at 2 percent of the legislature consisting of women. (66) Other countries with poor involvement by women in the political process include Syria, Morocco, Algeria, and Jordan with 12 percent or less of the parliament consisting of women. (67)
It is unclear what is behind the failure of women to politically empower themselves in the Middle East. According to recent findings, women in the Muslim World "are not active in politics because politics is not a safe and secure place." (68) Additionally, in some countries, some argue that traditionalists who strictly adhere to Shari'a and the literal readings of the Quran and hadiths have been using it to keep women politically oppressed. (69) The forces behind violence against women, poor education, lack of economic empowerment, and poor involvement in the political process seem …