Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton decried the marginalization of women in the Islamic world Tuesday night, calling women’s empowerment key to true democracy in the Middle East.
Mrs. Clinton made the remarks in a wide-ranging speech at the 2011 U.S.-Islamic World Forum. She noted “troubling signs regarding the rights and opportunities of women” in Egypt and Tunisia following their recent revolutions.
“So far, women have been excluded from key transitional decision-making processes,” Mrs. Clinton said. “When women marched through Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women’s Day in their new democracy, they were met by harassment and abuse.”
“You can’t claim to have a democracy if half the population is silenced,” she added.
Mrs. Clinton cited the United Nations’ first Arab Human Development Report in 2002, which found the political and economic participation of women in the region to be the lowest in the world.
“Successive reports have shown little progress,” she said, quoting the 2005 edition’s contention that women’s empowerment is “a prerequisite for an Arab renaissance, inseparably and causally linked to the fate of the Arab world.”
Mrs. Clinton, who as first lady in 1995 delivered her “women’s rights are human rights” speech in Beijing, pre-emptively defended herself against charges of anti-Muslim bias by praising various Muslim countries with good records on the issue. She also cited reasons for optimism throughout the region.
“Communities from Egypt to Jordan to Senegal are beginning to take on entrenched practices like child marriage, honor crimes and female cutting,” she said. “All over the world we see living proof that Islam and women’s rights are compatible.”