Why is it that President Obama can travel to Cairo to promote the wearing of the hijab, but when presented with an opportunity to make a relevant statement on women’s rights issues in the Middle East, he and his Administration are silent? It has been more than two weeks since Iran was handed a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women and still, not one word of condemnation from President Obama, Secretary Clinton, or UN Ambassador Rice. Granted, we have become conditioned to expect world-sanctioned hypocrisy over at the United Nations, but this new appointment comes at a time which is especially dangerous to the women who actually live in Iran.
The women’s rights movement in the Islamic Republic has been building momentum for decades and in recent years has served as inspiration for human rights activists around the world.
Last summer in particular, women took to the streets of Iran in record numbers to peacefully protest what is widely considered to be a fraudulent Presidential election. Activists in Iran have capitalized on this momentum and they continue to protest peacefully — now in an attempt to reform their government’s violent and oppressive laws against women.
This revitalized civil rights movement comes at a time when Iran is attempting to position itself as the leader of the Islamic world. Emboldened women who seek to shift the Republic away from its stringent adherence to Islamic Shariah law pose a huge threat to the existing power structure of the ruling government and an even greater threat to Iran’s credibility in the entire region. It is not the vague prospect of possible UN sanctions which is worrisome to the Iranian government, it is the empowerment of its own citizens — especially the ones in headscarves.
The result is a governmental crackdown on activists along with stricter, harsher laws and propaganda aimed against all women. It is no coincidence that we are witnessing more odd/troubling news coming from Iran — a cleric blames women for earthquakes and then days later a fatwa is issued against women with suntans. News like this makes for catchy sound bites and headlines, but mainstream sources often overlook the harsher reality — women in the Islamic Republic lack even the most basic rights to personal freedom. They have no right to choose their own husbands, have no right to divorce, cannot travel without the permission of their husbands, and are even barred from singing and dancing in public. Activists in Iran face unimaginable odds, yet they are still rising up in peaceful protest — by doing so, they face the possibility of arrest, detention, torture, rape, and even death.
Before Iran was quietly handed a place on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Iranian-based activists and supporters actually attempted to block Iran’s bid for this seat. They even sent a letter imploring UN members to do everything possible to prevent this travesty from occurring.
How did our own representative at the UN respond? On the day Iran was elected by acclamation to the women’s rights commission, Ambassador Rice did not bother even bother to attend the meeting. Aside from insulting women’s rights activists all over the world, this flagrant act of disregard highlights the arrogance of the Obama Administration and causes the US to appear weak on a global scale. The continued silence of this Administration has prompted some women leaders to sign a petition urging Secretary Clinton to denounce the appointment of Iran to the UN women’s rights commission.
I have contacted the White House Press Office, the US Mission to the UN, the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the State Department, but have not received a single on-the-record comment. After Iran won the seat on the UN women’s rights commission, the state-controlled media was apparently happy to report that the efforts by “hostile groups” were “ignored” by members of the UN. Within its borders, Iran will undoubtedly utilize this election as a propaganda tool in order to give validation to the regime’s horrific treatment of women. As for the rest of the world, over the next four years while Iran holds this seat, members of the UN will pretend that Islamic Shariah law is somehow compatible with women’s rights.
While the Obama Administration is supposedly busy changing the UN “from within,” the US is missing important opportunities to take leadership on the most basic of issues. The silence of this Administration, however, does not mandate the silence of the America people — it is now time for Congress to take action by passing a resolution condemning the appointment of Iran to UN Commission on the Status of Women.
It’s probable that President Obama still has grand dreams of using his public speaking skills to change the policies of the existing Iranian government, but so far this “dialogue” concept has only succeeded in making this Administration look naive. The Iranian regime is a threat to the world and to its own people — if the President is genuinely concerned about this threat, then at some point he will need to set aside his ego and reevaluate the policies of his Administration.
Meanwhile, in places like Iran, activists are waiting for the US President to utilize his skills in a more productive way — by speaking out for the women who would prefer to remove their state-mandated hijab, but face a punishment of 74 lashes for doing so.