Islamic Extremists Alarm Secular Women in Tunisia #Vaw #Womenrights


By Hajer Naili

WeNews correspondent

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tensions are rising between secular Tunisian women and political Islam. “There is no room for the opposition and women to participate in building the country we want,” says one critic.

Woman at a protest in Tunis, Tunisia.
Woman at a protest in Tunis, Tunisia.

 

Credit: Amine Ghrabi on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–“My body is mine, not somebody’s honor.”

Nineteen-year-old Tunisian feminist Amina Tyler wrote these words in Arabic across her breasts and stomach to defy growing Islamism in her country, and then posted topless pictures of herself on the Facebook page of the organization Femen Tunisia.

The images went viral on March 8, International Women’s Day, and unleashed a month of online debate and some calls by Islamic extremists for her to be stoned to death. Tyler went into retreat but last week broke her silence in an interview with the French magazine Marianne.

“My family accepts me, but not my action,” she is quoted as saying in the magazine. “I am tired, I am being given anti-depressants . . . I want to go back to school, I don’t feel free. I want to be free to call my friends again, to go on the Internet.”

Femen and other feminists called for April 4 to be “International Topless Jihad Day,” as it coincides with Tyler’s birthday, the French newspaper Liberation reported.

Tyler is an extreme example, but tensions between secular women and political Islam are growing inTunisia, the birthplace of the Arab uprisings.

On Feb. 6, the high-profile secular Tunisian politician Chokri Belaid was killed in what authorities said was an assassination by Salafi Islamist militants. The slaying collapsed the government of Hamadi Jebali, of the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda.

The new government, also led by Ennahda, expresses no outright intention to rule the country according to Sharia, or religious law. But its ability or willingness to control a minority of Salafists who want to impose Sharia and create an Islamic state by violent means if necessary is in doubt.

“There is a pressing problem of insecurity in Tunisia with the birth of militia and armed Salafists who attack people without hearing any reaction from the government,” said Saida Rached, secretary general of theTunisian Association of Democratic Women, a group that was banned under the ousted regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. “Tunisians are starting to suspect the current regime and especially the Ministry of Interior of complicity.”

Increased Fear

Because of the insecurity “women are afraid to go out,” Rached added, recalling a few incidents in which violent Salafists attacked people, including women, who disagreed with their ideas. Rached spoke withWomen’s eNews in March, on the sidelines of the U.N. annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The attacks have given Salafists a violent reputation, but the majority of adherents seek to establish an Islamic state through legal means. One apolitical faction takes no interest in the modern state and devotes itself to living as much as possible as the prophet Muhammad and his followers did in the 7th century.

Although women have not lost any legal ground, Rached said they are suffering a “social regression” that began with the start of the global economic crisis in 2008 and worsened after the ousting of Ben Ali.

Islam was the religion of the state under the previous constitution adopted in 1959 and the draft version of the new constitution, now being written, reasserts that. Secularists now wonder whether the official religion will overtake state functions and international treaties that sometimes oppose the cultural norms of conservative Islam.

Last year, an article in a draft version of the constitution expressing the “complementarity” between men and women brought protesters into the streets. The word was eventually dropped and replaced by “equality.” In the latest draft of the constitution, wording about equality between the sexes appears in the preamble, Article 5, Article 7 and Article 37.

Rached draws little comfort from such concessions. “It is still the Islamist party that is in power and decides who should be ministers and how the country should be ruled,” she said “There is no room for the opposition and women to participate in building the country we want.”

On March 29 dozens of angry people in Tunis brandished shoes and demanded the resignation of Sihem Badi,the minister of women’s affairs, for her slack response to the rape of a 3-year-old girl at a nursery in a Tunis suburb. Badi said a member of the girl’s family was to blame and that no measures against the nursery were needed.

Yesterday, a no-confidence motion against Badi was submitted to the Tunisian Parliament. Seventy-eight lawmakers signed the document, exceeding the 73 signatures required for a motion to be discussed. The signatories are demanding the dismissal of Badi from the government.

Polygamy Rumors

Rumors of legalized polygamy recently spread online to the point where a lawmaker named Karima Souid felt compelled to reassure followers on her Facebook page that no such bill had been submitted to the assembly.

Public discussion of female genital mutilation is also on the rise. A few weeks ago, Habib Ellouze, an Ennahda member, sparked outrage after he stated in a newspaper interview that female genital mutilation is “an aesthetic surgery.” The president of the Islamist party Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, expressed his disapproval for such a practice and was quoted in press accounts as saying that it “goes against Islam and that doesn’t belong to the Tunisian culture.”

There is no legal ban on female genital mutilation in Tunisia and the practice is uncommon. Article 17 in the draft of the constitution says “the state shall guarantee the physical and moral sanctity of the human self and shall prevent all forms of physical and/or moral torture.”

“Ellouze’s remarks on the excision are disgusting,” said Sophie Bessis, a research fellow at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, in an email interview. “FGM has never really existed in North Africa. Ellouze wants to import a barbaric practice.”

Bessis, author of the 2007 book “Arabs, Women and Freedom,” added that “Tunisia has today a government dominated by conservatives and women are paying the price of it.”

She criticized the current draft of the constitution for continuing to affirm Islam as the official religion. “This might lead to abuses and in particular depending on the interpretation of Sharia,” Bessis said.

In January, Eric Goldstein, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, sent a letter to assembly members saying the latest version of the constitution “is more respectful of the freedom of expression and women’s rights than the first draft.” However, he expressed concern about provisions such as judicial immunity for the head of state, lack of sufficient guarantees for the independence of the judiciary and ambiguous formulations that could threaten rights and freedoms.

Bessis said the current draft “is not good neither for women or democracy.”

Hajer Naili is a New York-based reporter for Women’s eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.

 

Clarion Call to join for an Expose on Women and Poverty- May 10-13


In the Spring of 2012, from May 10th-13th, Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) will host the first-ever World Courts of Women on Poverty in the U.S. (WCW) to highlight the grassroots reality of the housing, jobs, and poverty crisis in this country. With advice and counsel from Corinne Kumar, the founder of the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council (AWHRC)

(http://ciedsindia.org/overview.htm) and director of El Taller International (http://eltaller.org), WEAP has been planning for this incredible event for over 18 months, working to build the support and infrastructure needed to make this groundbreaking event succeed.

This past year has been monumental in the movement to highlight and protest against social inequality, corporate greed, and disparities between rich and poor with the emergence of the Occupy Movement. Within months, over 2,700 communities across the world joined the movement to address the impact of rising unemployment and cuts to social service programs. As part of our leadership in this movement, WEAP developed tools to document injustices facing the “99 percent” including Fact Sheets and a Health Addendum that expose human rights violations (found on WEAP’s website).

The World Courts of Women could not come at a more critical time. WEAP has been working hard to build on our transformative people’s movement to end poverty and highlight injustice facing women and families. Through planning of the WCW, we built alliances and partnerships with over 35 organizations across California to develop organizing committees that meet on a bi-weekly basis. These endorsing organizations, including Central Valley Journey for Justice, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Hip-Hop Congress and many others, that bring a wealth of knowledge and leadership to the planning process. This Planning Committee has made major gains in the progress of the WCW including creating a “Visual Call to Action,” a Youtube video advertising and explaining the Oakland Court (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0EBu9S9F4Y ) and a blog providing daily updates on the progress of WCW (http://worldcourtsofwomen.wordpress.com/). Additionally, we’ve started our registration process, making our registration form available online and developed an extensive volunteer database and descriptions of opportunities to become involved.

Over the past 15 years, the WCW has had a significant impact on placing gender at the center of the theory and practice of human rights as well as strengthening the networks of grassroots NGOs locally and transnationally. In every region they are held, the WCW gather people in conversations across race, religions, and cultures to highlight the knowledge and wisdoms of women in the region; laying the groundwork for transformative practices that challenge the dominant world view that move us all collectively towards a new generation of women’s human rights. Women, men and youth from all areas and histories bring their personal testimonies of violence to the Court.

We need your support now more than ever in this final stage of preparation. In the face of state budget cuts slashing crucial services to the most at risk communities, corporate greed and record numbers of women living in poverty, we offer a critical analysis of capitalism through a women and poverty lens. We are calling on you to become involved and to mobilize your communities to help present both the problems and the solutions.

The World Courts of Women will expose the great violence poverty is doing to increasing numbers of women in the U.S and assess the toll poverty is taking on our nation’s families, and protect & expand public resources for the benefit of the 99%, such as truly universal health care.

Come listen to the soul-searing stories and share your own, bring your organization, endorse, donate or volunteer. As the Assembly to End Poverty says, “It is time we STAND UP AND BUILD a new United States of America.

Who are we who support the World Courts of Women on Poverty in the U.S.?

• We are the mothers of children experiencing the pangs of hunger.

• We are the families who have lost our homes to foreclosure due to the tremendous greed of bankers and politicians.

• We are the incarcerated fathers who were ripped from our families by the prison industrial complex.

• We are the homeless veterans who have been abandoned by the government we fought to protect.

• We are the mothers who fear and suffer from the separation of our families due to our immigrant status.

• We are the millions of uninsured in this country who suffer and die daily due to lack of adequate health care.

•We are the youth that have been thrown away by a government that has continuously revoked all our after-school programs, public libraries, and recreation centers.

• We are the workers who struggle every day to make ends meet while corporations reap billions in profit from our labor.

• We are the immigrants who work tirelessly in a country that denies us basic human rights.

• We are the educators that find ourselves incapable of developing the leadership of our youth while schools are shutting down and funding is cut back.

• We are the women who survive and resist in a world that perpetuates tremendous violence at our expense.

How Can you Help ?

While WEAP is the lead organsaition and Ethel Long Scott the spirit behind it, El Taller, Tunisia and the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council are its key partners.Corinne Kumar, International Coordinator of the Courts of Women and the groups working on the World Court have been working very hard for the past two years with scarce resources to make this happen and finally it is happening!

We all could learn from our poor and homeless sisters in the US the art of organizing programmes with little resources.

Speaking from within the belly of the beast, the US World Court will look at issues of poverty and homelessness as a violation of both women’s rights and human rights, and link the struggles in the US with the struggles of the poor around the world. It seeks to expose the great violence poverty is doing to increasing numbers of women in the U.S; to assess the toll poverty is taking on our nation’s families; to end this crime against humanity by building a transformative movement to eliminate poverty;  to protect and expand public resources for the benefit of the 99%, to ensure truly universal health care.

 

To know more about the Court you could go to their website www.weap.org.

 

This Court is as many of you would know part of the larger global movement of the Courts of Women that through finding new ways to justice seeks to make violence against women unthinkable. With violence against women at their centre, more than forty two Courts of Women have been held in different regions of the world on issues ranging from trafficking, rape, military sexual slavery and other forms of personal violence to violence related to wars, nuclearisation, racism, development and poverty.

The Various Courts of Women have been initiated by AWHRC and El taller with several partner organizations in the different regions. Vimochana has been the local organization in Bangalore, India partnering on several of these Courts including the most recent one held here i.e Daughters of Fire, the India Court of Women on Dowry held in 2009 that many of you were part of.

At present apart from the Court of Women in the US there are two other Courts in preparation – the Colombia Court of Women against Forgetting and for Re-existence to be held in Colombia and the Balkan Court of Women on Justice with Healing to be held in the Balkans region.

Many of you have been with us in the creation and holding of the Courts of Women that have been held in different parts of the world either with your actual participation or expression of solidarity.  You must know how precious your support is for the Courts of Women such that it does become a larger movement for transformation in the ways that we understand and seek out justice.

We ask therefore once again for your solidarity and support for the World Courts of Women on Poverty in the United States.

You could endorse the letter  the letter above  or send a letter of solidarity addressed to Ethel Long Scott, Executive Director WEAP at weap@weap.org

 

A List of Courts held so far.

The Courts of Women held so far (1992- August 2007)

 

 

 

Asian Court of Women on Violence against Women

December 1993 January 1994; Lahore, Pakistan;

with the Simorgh Women’s Collective

 

Asian Court on War Crimes against Women

March 1994; Tokyo, Japan;

in collaboration with sixty four women’s groups in Japan

 

India Court of Women on Crimes against Dalit Women

March 1994; Bangalore, India; with the Women’s Voice, India

 

International Court of Women on Women on Reproductive Technologies

September 1994; Cairo, Egypt,

with UBINIG of Bangladesh

 

 

Speaking Tree: Women Speak

Asia Court of Women on Crimes against Women

and the Violence of Development

January 1995; with Vimochana, India

 

Asian Court of Women on Trafficking and Tourism

June 1995; Kathmandu, Nepal; with two hundred

Nepali ngos working on trafficking issues

 

Mahkamet El Nissa

Permanent Court of Women in the Arab World

June 1995; Beirut, Lebanon; with women’s and

human rights organisations in Tunisia and Lebanon

 

World Court of Women on Violence against Women

September 1995; Beijing, China; with over one hundred

women human rights groups from all over the world

 

Mahkamet El Nissa

Women and the Laws

March 1998; Beirut, Lebanon

 

Mahakama Ya Wa Mama Wa Africa

Africa Court of Women

June 24-26,   1999; Nairobi, Kenya;

with women’s human rights groups in Africa

 

Nga Wahine Pasifika

The Pacific Court of Women on Uranium mining, nuclear testing and

the Land

September 1999; Aotearoa, New Zealand,

with the Maori Women’s Network

 

Mediterranean Forum on Violence against Women

November 1999; Casablanca, Morocco; with Amal, Morocco and Crinali, Italy

 

 

 

International Court of Women on the Economic Blockade

November 1999; Havana, with El Taller- Central America,

Cuban Women’ Federation and Institute of Philosophy

Reheld during the World Social Forum, Puerto Allegre, January 2003

 

World Court of Women against War, for Peace

March 8, 2001; Cape Town, South Africa;

with an International Coordinating Committee and

a network of local women’s and human rights organisations

 

World Court for Women against Racism

August 30, 2001; Durban, South Africa with the Institute for Black Research,

University of Natal; the University of the Western Cape,

Women’s Support Network, Cape Town; the Durban Social Forum,

Sangoco and several other national

and  international NGO’s

 

Australian Court on Refugees and Indigenous Women

December 4, 2001; University of New South Wales with ANCORW

Sydney, Australia;

 

South Asia Court of Women

on the Violence of Trafficking and HIV/ AIDS

August 11-13, 2003; Dhaka, Bangladesh with

United Nations Development Program and UBINIG, Bangladesh

 

World Court of Women on War as Crime (WTI-Mumbai)

January 18, 2004, with International Action Center; USA;

Arab and Africa Research Center, Egypt; Institute for Black Research, South Africa;

Center for development studies, India.

and several other local and international ngos

at the World Social Forum, Mumbai, India.

 

Australian Court on Refugees and Indigenous Women

April, 2004 ; University of New South Wales with ANCORW

Sydney, Australia;

 

Africa Court of Women on the Violence against Women

December 10, 2004 with the Africa Social Forum

and several other local and regional ngos

at the Africa Social Forum, Lusaka, Zambia

 

Africa Court of Women: lives, livelihoods, lifeworlds

January 29, 2005 with the Africa Social Forum

and several other regional and international ngos

at the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil

 

International Court of Women against Neo-liberal policies

in Latin America

February 2005, Havana, Cuba in association with

the Institute of Philosophy and Galfisa

 

World Tribunal on Iraq – Arab session

June 15-18, 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia

the Solidarity Committee for Iraq and Palestine

 

 

World Court of Women on Resistance to Wars,

Wars of Globalisation, Wars against Women

January 22,2006, World Social Forum Polycentric, Bamako,

with local Mali organizations;

Forum for another Mali, Mali ;Women in Black India, Philippines, Nepal;

Forum for African Women for Solidarity Economy, Senegal;

Institute of Black Research, South Africa; Enda, Senegal, Ethiopia;

Gender Equity Unit, University of the Western Cape, South Africa;

Asafe, Cameroon; Widows of Rwanda, Rwanda;

Kenya Debt Relief Network, Kenya; Femnet, Zambia, Tanzania;

Genta, South Africa; Institute of Philosophy, Cuba;

Federation of Cuban Women, Cuba; Martin Luther King Center, Cuba;

 

World Court of Women on Resistance to Wars,

Wars of Globalisation, Wars against Women

January 27, 2006, World Social Forum Polycentric, Caracas, Venezuela

with local Venezuelan organizations ;

Intellectuals and artists in the defense of humanity, Venezuela;

Federation of Cuban Women ; Pratec, Peru;

Embacorpaz, Women of the Consensus, Colombia;

Martin Luther King Center, Cuba; Madres de Plaza Mayo, Argentina;

Zapatistas, Mexico ; Asian Women’s Human Rights Council ;

Cieds Collective, India ; Forum for African Women for Solidarity Economy, Senegal

Institute of Black Research, University of Natal, South Africa

 

World Court of Women on Resistance to Wars,

Wars of Globalisation, Wars against Women

March 22, 2006, World Social Forum Polycentric, Karachi, Pakistan

with the Cieds Collective, India ; Vimochana, India ; El Taller International, Tunisia ;

the Institute of Black Research, University of Natal South Africa ;

the Gender Equity Support Unit, University of the Western Cape, South Africa;

Kenya Debt Relief Network; Kenya ;

Institute of Philosophy, Cuba ; Women in Black India, Philippines, Nepal

Reheld in March 30, 2006 in Lahore, Pakistan

with Simorgh ;

 

World Court of Women on Poverty: Lives, Livelihoods, Lifeworlds

January 22, 2007  World Social Forum, Nairobi

with CIEDS Collective, India,the Gender Equity Support Unit, University of the Western Cape, South Africa;Kenya Debt Relief Network; Kenya

 

Asia Pacific Court of Women on HIV, Inheritance and Property Rights:

From Dispossession to Livelihoods, Security and Safe Spaces

August 18, 2007

With UNDP in association with UNAIDS, UNIFEM SARO, ICRW, Inform – Sri Lanka, Centre for Women’s Research; CENWOR – Sri Lanka; Siyath Foundation, Sri Lanka; FWLD, Sri Lanka; Lawyers Collective, India; PWN+, India; Vimochana, India; Milana, India; Abhaya Action Aid, India; Lanka Plus, Sri Lanka; El Taller International

 

Courts of Women on Dowry and Related Forms of Violence

Daughters of Fire

July 27, 28, 29, 2009

Christ University, Bangalore, India

With partners AWHRC, El Taller and 50 other partner organisations from all over India.

 

 

 

 

South East Asia Court of Women on HIV, Human Trafficking and Migration:

From vulnerability to free just and safe movement

August 6, 2009

Bali International Convention Center , Nusa Dua , Bali, Indonesia

 

 

 

 

For details contact:

 

Corinne Kumar

International Coordinator

Courts of Women

 

International Coordinating Secretariats

 

El Taller – International

32, Avenue D’afrique

El Menzah V,

1004 Tunis, Tunisie

Telephone              216 – 71 – 753738

Fax                            216 –7 1 – 751570

Email                            eltaller@gnet.tn

Eltaller.international@gmail.com

Website              www.eltaller.org

 

Asian Women’s Human Rights Council

 

Address              No. 33/1, 9 and 10, Thyagaraj Layout

Jaibharath Nagar

Maruthi Sevanagar PO

Bangalore 560 033

India

 

Telephone              91 – 80 – 25492782/1/3

Fax                            91 –  80 –  25492782

Email                            awhrci@gmail.com

Website              www.awhrc.org

 

 

 

 

Human Rights Groups Blur Issues of Women Rights


English: 44th Munich Security Conference: The ...

Image via Wikipedia

By Meredith Tax

(WOMENSENEWS)– Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down that country’s Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling.

And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control.

In this context, the support given by Kenneth Roth, head of the major U.S. organization Human Rights Watch, to Islamist parties is disturbing to say the least and shows a wider problem in the attitude of the human rights movement toward political Islam.

In his group’s 2012 World Report, Roth wrote: “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but he failed to call for the most basic guarantee of rights–the separation of religion from the state.

His essay only once mentions the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities, almost in passing: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.”

Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Roth’s essay is just the latest example of a crisis within the human rights movement, some of whose leaders have treated political Islamists as partners and been willing to downplay systematic violence and discrimination against women, gays and religious minorities.

Marieme Helie-Lucas is founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the 20-year advocacy group with headquarters in London, Dakar, Senegal and Lahore, Pakistan. She suggested a group response to Roth.
Over a period of three weeks, with several women writing and others offering suggestions, we produced an Open Letter to Roth, which serves as a critique of his essay, signed by 17 global women’s human rights groups. Our letter is accompanied by a petition.

Read more here

 

Open Letter to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch


Separate  Between Religion and State

Having experienced the ways in which religious fundamentalists have used both armed violence and state power to attack fundamental freedoms, we want to express our alarm at the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and other representatives of political Islam. We believe that secularism is a minimum precondition for the freedom and equality of all citizens. It is intrinsic to democracy and the full realisation of human rights.

Rather than becoming complicit with religious fundamentalists in power, we call on Human Rights Watch to report violations and threats against those targeted by fundamentalists and to support the call for secularism, and the continuing struggle for social justice.

Dear Kenneth Roth,

In your Introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2012, “Time to Abandon the Autocrats and Embrace Rights,” you urge support for the newly elected governments that have brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt. In your desire to “constructively engage” with the new governments, you ask states to stop supporting autocrats. But you are not a state; you are the head of an international human rights organization whose role is to report on human rights violations, an honorable and necessary task which your essay largely neglects.

You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Nor do you point to the one of the clearest threats to rights—particularly to women and religious and sexual minorities—the threat to introduce so-called “shari’a law.” It is simply not good enough to say we do not know what kind of Islamic law, if any, will result, when it is already clear that freedom of expression and freedom of religion—not to mention the choice not to veil—are under threat. And while it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been in power for very long, we can get some idea of what to expect by looking at their track record. In the UK, where they were in exile for decades, unfettered by political persecution, the exigencies of government, or the demands of popular pressure, the Muslim Brotherhood systematically promoted gender apartheid and parallel legal systems enshrining the most regressive version of “shari’a law”. Yusef al-Qaradawi, a leading scholar associated with them, publicly maintains that homosexuality should be punished by death. They supported deniers of the holocaust and the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, and shared platforms with salafi-jihadis, spreading their calls for militant jihad. But, rather than examine the record of Muslim fundamentalists in the West, you keep demanding that Western governments “engage.”

Western governments are engaged already; if support for autocrats was their Plan A, the Muslim Brotherhood has long been their Plan B. The CIA’s involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 1950s and was revived under the Bush administration, while support for both the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat e Islaami has been crucial to the “soft counter-terror” strategy of the British state. Have you heard the phrases “non-violent extremism” or “moderate Islamism?” This language is deployed to sanitize movements that may have substituted elections for bombs as a way of achieving power but still remain committed to systematic discrimination.

Like you, we support calls to dismantle the security state and to promote the rule of law. But we do not see that one set of autocratic structures should be replaced by another which claims divine sanction. And while the overthrow of repressive governments was a victory and free elections are, in principle, a step towards democracy, shouldn’t the leader of a prominent human rights organization be supporting popular calls to prevent backlash and safeguard fundamental rights? In other words, rather than advocating strategic support for parties who may use elections to halt the call for continuing change and attack basic rights, shouldn’t you support the voices for both liberty and equality that are arguing that the revolutions must continue?

Throughout your essay, you focus only on the traditional political aspects of the human rights agenda. You say, for instance, that “the Arab upheavals were inspired by a vision of freedom, a desire for a voice in one’s destiny, and a quest for governments that are accountable to the public rather than captured by a ruling elite.” While this is true as far as it goes, it completely leaves out the role that economic and social demands played in the uprisings. You seem able to hear only the voices of the right wing—the Islamist politicians— and not the voices of the people who initiated and sustained these revolutions: the unemployed and the poor of Tunisia, seeking ways to survive; the thousands of Egyptian women who mobilized against the security forces who tore off their clothes and subjected them to the sexual assaults known as “virginity tests.” These assaults are a form of state torture, usually a central issue to human rights organizations, yet you overlook them because they happen to women.

The way you ignore social and economic rights is of a piece with your neglect of women, sexual rights, and religious minorities. Your vision is still rooted in the period before the Vienna Conference and the great advances it made in holding non-state actors accountable and seeing women’s rights as human rights. Your essay makes it all too clear that while the researchers, campaigners, and country specialists who are the arms and legs and body of Human Rights Watch may defend the rights of women, minorities, and the poor, the head of their organization is mainly interested in relations between states.

Organizations:

Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW)

Centre for Secular Space (CSS), global

Marea, Italy

Nijera Kori, Bangladesh

One Law for All, UK

Organisation Against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UK

Secularism Is a Women’s Issue (SIAWI), global

Southall Black Sisters, UK

Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights (WICUR), global

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), global

Individuals (organizations listed for identification purposes only)

Dorothy Aken’Ova, Exercutive Director, INCRESE, Nigeria

Codou Bop, Coordinator, Research Group on Women and the Law, Senegal

Ariane Brunet, Co-Founder, Urgent Action Fund, Canada

Lalia Ducos, WICUR-Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights

Laura Giudetti, Marea, Italy

Asma Guenifi, President, Ni Putes Ni Soumises, France

Lilian Halls-French, Co-President, Initiative Féministe Européenne pour Une Autre Europe (IFE-EFI)

Anissa Helie, Assistant Professor, John Jay College, US

Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Alia Hogben, Canadian Council of Muslim Women

Hameeda Hossain, Bangladesh

Khushi Kabir, Nijera Kori, Bangladesh

Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh

Frances Kissling, Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics

Maryam Namazie, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now; Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UK

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, UK

Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space, UK

Fatou Sow, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)

Meredith Tax, Centre for Secular Space, USA

Faizun Zackariya, Cofounder, Muslim Women’s Research and Action Front (MWRAF), Sri Lanka

Afiya Zia, Journalist, Pakistan

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Faking Democracy- Free Irom Sharmila Now

Faking Democracy- Repression Anti- Nuke activists

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