U.S. should help Muslim women

Except for a brief period in the months prior to the U.S. deposing of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, too little attention has been focused in this country on the routine brutalities visited upon women in Muslim countries simply because they are women.

During the run-up to the Taliban’s fall, millions of people around the world saw a dramatic video of a young woman being executed in a sports stadium with one shot at close range to the back of the head. That video came to represent in the minds of many the barbarity of the Islamic extremist regime that had given aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

But once the Taliban were ousted and a more moderate regime took over in Afghanistan, concerns about the plight of women in Muslim countries faded from the minds of many in the West.

The tragedy is that the brutalities have continued as a matter of daily life in too many places throughout the Muslim world.

In Saudi Arabia, women are required to be covered from head to foot when in public, they must always be escorted by a male relative and they are not permitted to drive. In effect, Saudi women are prisoners in their own homes.

According to the World Health Organization, every day millions of young women in Muslim countries such as Egypt and Somalia experience the horrific pain and disfigurement of female genital mutilation. With a few exceptions — Turkey and Iraq, for example — these illustrations are uncomfortably close to the norm in too many Muslim countries.

There are stirrings of reform in many places among Muslim women, even in the most repressive regimes. Women Living Under Muslim Laws has been in existence for more than two decades and describes itself as “an international solidarity network that provides information, support and a collective space for women whose lives are shaped, conditioned or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam.”

The group links individual women and like-minded groups “in more than 70 countries ranging from South Africa to Uzbekistan, Senegal to Indonesia and Brazil to France.”

In short, wherever there are Muslim women, be they in Muslim or non-Muslim countries, it is likely there are at least some women linked to WLUML. But these brave women cannot do it alone. America should aggressively support and encourage such organizations and put the rights of women in Muslim countries front and center on the world stage at the United Nations.

Every Muslim member nation has signed a charter that among much else affirms “the equal rights of men and women.” It’s time the men in these countries practice what they promise about women at the U.N.

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