President Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in Egypt today, titled “A New Beginning.” I watched the speech on television this morning. In addressing U.S. relations with the Muslim world, he took some time to talk about women’s rights:
The sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights.
I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.
Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.
Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.
I appreciate the admission that the struggle for women’s equality is not one that’s taking place “over there,” but everywhere. BUT, we cannot continue to sell out basic human rights so as not to offend religious extremists. I would like for Obama to proclaim government-sanctioned Religious Law completely unacceptable, and issue an ultimatum to completely withdraw support of religious fundamentalist governments.
Whenever former President Bush would call the Saudis “important friends,” or smile widely in photographs with members of the Saudi royal family, I’d grit my teeth and wonder, How is this Kingdom our friend?! When will this charade end!? I feel the same way looking at pictures from Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no elected officials other than the municipal ones that the government allowed in 2005. The Saudi people don’t have any political recourse. We have covered their crimes against humanity before. Just last week, they publicly executed and crucified a man. There are plenty of atrocities happening all over the world, and that will not change until the rule of law established in these nations. That goal should be the focus of our relations with these countries.