Commentary Magazine


Topic: women’s rights

Obama Should Correct Erdoğan on Women

That Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should not only believe but also state openly that he doesn’t believe women to be the equal of men should surprise no one after all these years. While Turkey was once one of the most enlightened majority Muslim populations when it came to women—being one of the first Muslim countries to elect a female prime minister, for example—in recent years, the plight of women has declined precipitously.

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That Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should not only believe but also state openly that he doesn’t believe women to be the equal of men should surprise no one after all these years. While Turkey was once one of the most enlightened majority Muslim populations when it came to women—being one of the first Muslim countries to elect a female prime minister, for example—in recent years, the plight of women has declined precipitously.

According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report, Turkey now ranks 125th out of 142 countries, in the bottom not only of Europe, but also of Central Asia, and below Russia, Tajikistan, Swaziland, and conservative Muslim societies like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

Erdoğan has flushed women from top levels of the state bureaucracy; in the current cabinet, there is only one female minister. A few years ago, the Prime Minister’s Office of Personnel found no women among the 25 ministry undersecretaries, and only three women among the 85 deputy undersecretaries. Only one woman served among the 254 regional ministry directors. This is no coincidence: women found little support from Erdoğan, who told them they should have at least three babies and ideally more. It was upon this theme that Erdoğan doubled down in his comments yesterday, declaring, “Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women [in society]: Motherhood. Some people can understand this, while others can’t.”

Of course, the most damning statistic which also comes from within the Turkish government is that in the first seven years of Erdoğan’s watch, the murder rate of women in Turkey increased 1,400 percent.

Obama once praised Erdoğan as one of his most trusted international friends. American presidents—with the slight exception of Ronald Reagan—have traditionally been averse to bullhorn diplomacy, that is, using the podium of the Oval Office to lambast adversaries outside the confines of wartime.

But sometimes the most effective thing a president can do is speak with moral clarity from his bully pulpit. Just as Obama’s silence against the backdrop of Iran’s 2009 post-election protests forfeited an important opportunity to define the moral high ground, so too might Obama provide Erdoğan with a teachable moment about bigotry and the contributions women make to societies and have made inside Turkey when treated with equality. Women in Turkey are not willing to take Erdoğan’s slights sitting down; they should know they have support.

It is not only Obama, though, who should speak up and make Erdoğan realize that when he spouts nonsense, others will push back on him. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has had an honorable career. Under her tenure during the Clinton administration, U.S.-Turkey relations arguably reached their tightest. Since leaving government service, she has remained engaged in Turkey. Her word matters, and if she were to stand up and speak out, Turkish officials would notice.

Too many current officials choose to remain silent because they believe principle might get in the way diplomacy. But diplomacy absent principle is often not worth the paper on which it is written. Likewise, former officials bite their lips and remain silent for fear of undercutting business interests or access. That is a short-term approach, however; for if Turkey continues to unravel the progress its women long made and if Erdoğan continues to seek the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s mantle of craziness, then such opportunities aren’t going to persist.

President Obama once solicited Erdoğan’s advice for raising daughters. Perhaps it’s time Obama returned the favor and offered the Turkish strongman some advice on how to treat women.

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Khamenei Loves Carter’s Book on Women

Love Jimmy Carter or hate him, one thing is certain: The Iranian hostage crisis paralyzed his presidency and contributed heavily to his political downfall. A chapter of my new book examines in detail Carter administration outreach to Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis and while Carter made many mistakes, too often his critics ignore the very real belief at the time that Iran’s revolutionary authorities could do anything, including trying American diplomats before revolutionary tribunals and executing them.

The Islamic Revolution, of course, did many things. Despite the rhetoric of social justice that infuses the Islamic Republic’s religious rhetoric, it ushered in an increase in sectarianism and a rollback of basic human rights across Iranian society. Whereas women in Middle Eastern countries have long fought for new rights, the Islamic Republic was unique—at least until recently with the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring and the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—in that women had to fight for rights which had been taken away from them. Nor are there many countries whose governments take pride in imprisoning and perhaps even executing rape victims.

So, it’s always slightly ironic when senior Iranian officials extol the Utopia they say their country has become for women. And so it was with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the self-professed deputy of the messiah on Earth, who gave a speech on women’s rights recently. The values the Islamic Republic hold dear in women?

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Love Jimmy Carter or hate him, one thing is certain: The Iranian hostage crisis paralyzed his presidency and contributed heavily to his political downfall. A chapter of my new book examines in detail Carter administration outreach to Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis and while Carter made many mistakes, too often his critics ignore the very real belief at the time that Iran’s revolutionary authorities could do anything, including trying American diplomats before revolutionary tribunals and executing them.

The Islamic Revolution, of course, did many things. Despite the rhetoric of social justice that infuses the Islamic Republic’s religious rhetoric, it ushered in an increase in sectarianism and a rollback of basic human rights across Iranian society. Whereas women in Middle Eastern countries have long fought for new rights, the Islamic Republic was unique—at least until recently with the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring and the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—in that women had to fight for rights which had been taken away from them. Nor are there many countries whose governments take pride in imprisoning and perhaps even executing rape victims.

So, it’s always slightly ironic when senior Iranian officials extol the Utopia they say their country has become for women. And so it was with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the self-professed deputy of the messiah on Earth, who gave a speech on women’s rights recently. The values the Islamic Republic hold dear in women?

A mother who has offered two, three, four martyrs in the way of God and who has stood firm despite this, advises us to stand firm as well. One really feels humility in the face of such greatness. These are the realities about the women of our society which are very glorious and important realities. Well, this is thankfully the bright and shining part of the issue of women in our country.

He continues to lament women’s suffrage and the growing role in society that women have played in the West since the Industrial Revolution. He continues to cite none other than Jimmy Carter to describe the supposedly horrible state of women in the West:

I found it to be a very important writing. I have brought it to this meeting to read it for you. A book written by Jimmy Carter – the former president of America – has been published which is named “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, And Power”. Jimmy Carter says in this book, “Every year, 100,000 girls are sold as slaves in America where the owner of a brothel can buy girls – who are usually Latin American or African – at only 1000 dollars.” He also refers to the rapes which occur in colleges where only one case out of 25 cases is reported. He goes on to say that only one percent of rapists are put to trial in the army. One cries when one reads such things. We can see many such writings in newspapers. I see such writings as well, but I never base my opinions on them. However, these are realities. Jimmy Carter is a well-known personality after all and this is his book.

Khamenei is referring to Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power. While Carter is right to point out a lack of progress in some aspects of Western society, he has little perspective or sense of balance about relative rights. He exaggerates or uses unreliable or discredited statistics to bash the West, and tends to embrace cultural relevancy and downplay the horrific violence and discrimination women face in the Middle East and broader Islamic world.

For example, he describes Saudi women as “bubbl[ing] over with pleasure as they extolled their enhanced status in Saudi society, with its special protection, plus freedom and privilege.” Indeed, he then observed “women in the Kingdom relish some customs that Westerners consider deprivations.” How unfortunate it is that a man who was once leader of the free world so readily considers individual liberty and freedom to choose how to live one’s life such a burden.

Carter also includes some potted history with regard to Iran, but he fails to mention the repressions Iranian women face. The closest he comes is to lament that Tehran—along with Sudan, Somalia, the island nations of Palau and Tonga, and the United States—have not ratified the UN’s The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. He neglects to realize that many Arab countries have ratified but then moved to exempt themselves from the Convention’s provisions, or ignored them altogether, nor mentions the reasons why the United States has not ratified the treaty, which have more to do with sovereignty than misogyny. Bashing Western freedom and whitewashing abuses in the Islamic world does not make an individual enlightened; it makes him or her a bigot, willing to condemn others to tyranny based on the location of their birth.

The arrogance of power—and life in an echo chamber—can lead to the moral miscalibration that appears to afflict our nation’s 39th president. But, if there was ever a time to stand up and engage in some serious introspection, it is probably when Iran’s supreme leader seems so enthusiastic to endorse your latest book.

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More Woes for Turkish Women

Turkey was once a bastion of hope for women in majority Muslim countries. The Turkish government was relatively progressive on women’s issues, not simply in theory but in reality. Turkey was one of the first majority Muslim countries to have a female prime minister and, historically, women were not only parliamentarians but also ministers and held key administrative posts.

That, of course, has changed under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule. Three years ago, I offered statistics here about the downward trend in women’s involvement inside the Turkish state. And social issues persist: child marriage, an extremely high murder rate for women coupled often with impunity for their victimizers, and Erdoğan’s belief that he should dictate how many children Turkish women should have and whether or not they should be able to have Caesarean sections. One of Erdoğan’s senior party members has even called for legalization of polygamy.

Now, the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER) has released a report showing that the situation is not improving for women in Turkey:

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Turkey was once a bastion of hope for women in majority Muslim countries. The Turkish government was relatively progressive on women’s issues, not simply in theory but in reality. Turkey was one of the first majority Muslim countries to have a female prime minister and, historically, women were not only parliamentarians but also ministers and held key administrative posts.

That, of course, has changed under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule. Three years ago, I offered statistics here about the downward trend in women’s involvement inside the Turkish state. And social issues persist: child marriage, an extremely high murder rate for women coupled often with impunity for their victimizers, and Erdoğan’s belief that he should dictate how many children Turkish women should have and whether or not they should be able to have Caesarean sections. One of Erdoğan’s senior party members has even called for legalization of polygamy.

Now, the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates (KA.DER) has released a report showing that the situation is not improving for women in Turkey:

Turkey ranked 120th out of 136 countries in the Gender Gap Index in 2013 while also finished 103rd in terms of women’s participation in politics… KA.DER said only four female mayors were elected in the March 30 local elections – in Gaziantep, Aydın, Diyarbakır and Hakkari – although a number of women were elected as co-mayors from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in areas populated by Kurds. There is only one female undersecretary out of a total of 26 undersecretaries working in the ministries, it said, adding that just one of 81 governors was a woman. The female presence is also low in critical judicial positions. All key judicial institutions such as the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Election Board (YSK), the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the Military Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Accounts, are headed by men….

Political and administrative positions aside, the situation of women in the Turkish workforce is also pretty pathetic–almost as pathetic as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling Turkey a model all the whole ignoring the misogyny which Erdoğan had injected into the Turkish system.

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Hillary Clinton’s Legacy

Bret Stephens has a devastating column in today’s Wall Street Journal questioning the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton has been a good secretary of state. He goes down a litany of trouble spots and shows that the strategic position of the United States has declined as a direct result of Clinton’s decisions, policy, and direction.

So what will Clinton’s legacy be? Early on in her term, when it appeared that President Obama was delegating primary responsibility for foreign policy crisis management to Vice President Biden and Senator John Kerry, press reports suggested Clinton was prioritizing women’s issues.

As Clinton’s term winds down, women will form the central pillar of her legacy. Alas, Clinton will be remembered not for women’s empowerment, but rather for their betrayal. In short remarks to a gathering of Egyptian women, Clinton said she told Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s new president and a longtime Muslim Brotherhood activist, that democracy has to be inclusive. In her press conference following her meeting, however, her talking points about inclusion seemed to be little more than throw away lines. The fact of the matter is that while feminists might be fighting for new rights, Egyptians feminists appear to now be fighting for rights that are being stripped away.

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Bret Stephens has a devastating column in today’s Wall Street Journal questioning the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton has been a good secretary of state. He goes down a litany of trouble spots and shows that the strategic position of the United States has declined as a direct result of Clinton’s decisions, policy, and direction.

So what will Clinton’s legacy be? Early on in her term, when it appeared that President Obama was delegating primary responsibility for foreign policy crisis management to Vice President Biden and Senator John Kerry, press reports suggested Clinton was prioritizing women’s issues.

As Clinton’s term winds down, women will form the central pillar of her legacy. Alas, Clinton will be remembered not for women’s empowerment, but rather for their betrayal. In short remarks to a gathering of Egyptian women, Clinton said she told Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s new president and a longtime Muslim Brotherhood activist, that democracy has to be inclusive. In her press conference following her meeting, however, her talking points about inclusion seemed to be little more than throw away lines. The fact of the matter is that while feminists might be fighting for new rights, Egyptians feminists appear to now be fighting for rights that are being stripped away.

Clinton’s actions regarding the rehabilitation of the Taliban are far more shameful. Clinton has made reconciliation of the Taliban a central pillar of her political strategy to end the Afghanistan war. Wars can end in either victory or defeat. Reinstalling the Taliban—who remain as ferociously opposed to women’s rights as ever—is nothing other than embracing defeat. The idea promoted by her diplomats in emails to Afghan officials that the Taliban simply reflect Pushtun culture is an argument less rooted in fact than in a desire to excuse the Taliban’s worst excesses by embracing cultural relativism.

President Obama has named Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as among his closest international friends. That’s all well and good. But it should be no reason to speak out against the purging of women from the civil society, or a murder rate of women that, according to Turkey’s own statistics, has increased more than 1,000 percent during Erdoğan’s rule.

Clinton may cloak herself in the feminist mantle, but her record is something else. Legacies rest more on fact than on handlers and sympathetic journalists. The simple fact is that under Clinton’s watch—and largely because of her policies and silence—women in the Islamic world have suffered their worst setbacks in generations.

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Dem Tactic to Smear GOP as Anti-Women

After failing to make much headway with women voters by insisting the GOP wants to take away the right to birth control, the Democratic Party is moving onto its next attempt to make the contrived “Republican war on women” narrative stick. The new fight is about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation the GOP has previously supported.

But this time around, Democrats are pinning a provision to it that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain temporary visas as victims of domestic violence. In other words, it’s a transparent, politically-motivated attempt to provoke Republican opposition to VAWA and allow the left to claim the GOP supports violence against women:

Republicans are bracing for a battle where substantive arguments could be swamped by political optics and the intensity of the clash over women’s issues. At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as antiwoman — with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall, several Republican senators said Wednesday.

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

“I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee. “You think that’s possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?”

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After failing to make much headway with women voters by insisting the GOP wants to take away the right to birth control, the Democratic Party is moving onto its next attempt to make the contrived “Republican war on women” narrative stick. The new fight is about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation the GOP has previously supported.

But this time around, Democrats are pinning a provision to it that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain temporary visas as victims of domestic violence. In other words, it’s a transparent, politically-motivated attempt to provoke Republican opposition to VAWA and allow the left to claim the GOP supports violence against women:

Republicans are bracing for a battle where substantive arguments could be swamped by political optics and the intensity of the clash over women’s issues. At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as antiwoman — with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall, several Republican senators said Wednesday.

Some conservatives are feeling trapped.

“I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee. “You think that’s possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?”

Senate Democratic women are jumping on this gimmick today by marching on the Senate floor to insist on the quick renewal of the legislation.

But the one positive for Republicans is that there’s strong public opposition to illegal immigration. If they want any hope of winning on this issue, they’ll need to emphasize that it’s the Democrats who are holding the reauthorization hostage by tying it to provisions that would encourage more fraud in the immigration system. To the Senate Democratic women marching today, the GOP might argue: We would be happy to extend VAWA in its current form. We would love to do it immediately. In fact, the only thing delaying its extension is the controversial measure you tacked onto it.

What conservatives should avoid is relitigating VAWA. Yes, there are legitimate arguments that could be made against the law, some of which have been pursued by civil rights groups like the ACLU. But it’s also been in place for almost two decades, and while it may not be perfect, it’s negligible compared to the real battles conservatives need to focus on. If there’s opposition to VAWA from prominent conservative pundits, there’s a good chance it’ll be cited as ironclad proof that the Right is anti-women and used to divert attention from the serious election issues.

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The Real War on Women

Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

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Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

Yet, instead of getting back to discussing the birth control policy debate, Democrats and liberals in the media have continued to rage against Limbaugh. Maybe because it’s easier to argue against an indefensible comment by a radio host than to try to convince the public that your right to pay less for birth control should override the religious rights of Catholic employers. But for the most part, the news stories on the birth control mandate have been substance-less variations on the “Limbaugh Still Under Fire for ‘Slut’ Comments” theme. And Democrats continue to use the controversy to claim the Republican Party is waging a “war on women.”

A little perspective would be useful here. A radio host with a history of saying offensive things called a birth control activist some really nasty names. He later apologized. By what standard does that amount to a Republican “war on women,” or something that should be dominating the news after two weeks?

But Democrats aren’t the only ones keeping this in the news. On the other side, conservatives have been pointing out that liberal pundits and comedians have made plenty of comments about women that are just as vulgar and offensive as Limbaugh’s. Greta Van Susteren even called for journalists to skip the White House Correspondent’s Dinner because she thinks the host, comedian Louis C.K., has made sexist remarks about female politicians.

It’s important to highlight the hypocrisy of the White House and Democratic Party when it comes to civil discourse, but this is turning into a futile competition about which side can act more offended. Getting so worked up over the words of comedians and radio shock jocks – people whose job descriptions practically require them to be offensive – is a little ridiculous.

On a partially related note, Wednesday was International Women’s Day. In Egypt, women spent it wondering whether the Islamist-majority parliament will take away their right to work when the new constitution is drafted. Female activists took to the streets in protest, all at great personal risk. That’s a real war on women, and it’s something to think about if you’re an American who’s still hyperventilating over Limbaugh’s grievous insult today, 15 days after he said it and nearly a week after he apologized. Maybe you should ask yourself whether your unappeasable outrage is based on rational concerns, or whether it’s driven by something a bit more partisan.

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