Twenty years after a landmark U.N. conference on promoting gender equality, the head of the agency ‘U.N. Women’ said that a growing “conservative and extremist resistance” to equality between the sexes needs to be understood and confronted.
CNS News Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called the problem “one of the new dangers” in the way of efforts to pursue the goal of global gender equality.
Neither she, nor a major report prepared for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting she was addressing in New York, identified radical Islamic ideology as a leading factor, although surveys have found Muslim nations fare worst in gender equality rankings.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said the phenomenon was evident in ways like “ongoing attacks on girls’ education, women’s public participation and women’s control over their bodies.”
In several areas Ban’s report touched on problems that are common in Islamic contexts, where religious texts, teachings by Muslim clergy, the actions of jihadist groups and implementation of shari’a impact on women’s rights and freedoms. But it stopped short of identifying Islam as a factor:
–In advancing the agenda of women and security, “such emerging threats as the rise of violent extremism,” had limited and even set back progress.
–Many countries have legal systems that include “statutory, customary and/or religious law, which often do not work together to uphold the human rights of women.”
–Women human rights defenders face “stigmatization and ostracism by extremist and conservative groups, community leaders, families and communities who consider them to be challenging traditional notions of family and gender roles in the society and threatening religion, honor or culture through their work.”
Every year the World Economic Forum (WEF) evaluates countries of the world for its “Global Gender Gap” report, which measures gaps between women and men in the areas of political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival.
In 2014, 19 of the 20 countries with the lowest scores across those four areas were majority Islamic nations.
Worst was Yemen, followed in order by Pakistan, Chad, Syria, Mali, Iran, Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Guinea, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Algeria, Turkey, Bahrain and Tunisia. The only non-Muslim state in the bottom 20 was Ethiopia, ranked between Oman and Algeria.
According to 2013 U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) data, FGM rates are highest in Somalia (estimated 98 percent prevalence), Djibouti (93), Egypt (91), Guinea (96), Mali (89), Eritrea (89), Sierra Leone (88) and Sudan (88). With the exception of Eritrea, ALL are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the bloc of Muslim-majority nations.
10 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of marriage under the age of 18 are Muslim majority states, including four of the top five (Niger, Chad, Bangladesh and Mali).
The OIC disputes that there is any link between Islam and practices like FGM and child marriage. In a statement delivered during a CSW session in 2013, the Islamic bloc described FGM as a “cultural” practice that is “disguised as part of religious tradition.” It also said that “child marriage, violence against women as well as other negative acts perpetuated are often misidentified as being part of Islamic tradition.
At that same 2013 CSW session, Egypt – then under a Muslim Brotherhood government – led a push to reject a draft declaration on violence against women, warning that it would “be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.”