Jan 112010

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a stirring speech on the importance of women’s human and reproductive rights on the occasion of the 15th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.  From her remarks (emphasis mine):

Investing in the health of women, adolescents, and girls is not only the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do

…we have seen that when women and girls have the tools to stay healthy and the opportunity to contribute to their families’ well-being, they flourish and so do the people around them….

…While investing in women lifts many lives, the inverse is also true. In societies where women’s rights and roles are denied, girls are forbidden from attending school or they pay a very heavy price to try to do so. Few have the right to decide whether or when to get married or become mothers. Poverty, political oppression, and even violent extremism often follow

…These struggles can’t be separated, and neither can their solutions…

…This year, the United States renewed funding of reproductive healthcare through the United Nations Population Fund, and more funding is on the way.  The U.S. Congress recently appropriated more than $648 million in foreign assistance to family planning and reproductive health programs worldwide. That’s the largest allocation in more than a decade – since we last had a Democratic president, I might add.

In addition to new funding, we’ve launched a new program that will be the centerpiece of our foreign policy, the Global Health Initiative, which commits us to spending $63 billion over six years to improve global health by investing in efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality, prevent millions of unintended pregnancies, and avert millions of new HIV infections, among other goals.

Indeed, empowering women is one of the smartest and cost-efficient ways there is  to fight, “Poverty, political oppression, and even violent extremism.” As I noted last spring,

According to UNFPA, the cost of all eight of the Millenium Development Goals would be $64.7 billion dollars. Of that,

The total 2010 costs for sexual and reproductive health, which include family planning and maternal health, are estimated at $27.4 billion; $32.5 billion for HIV/AIDS; and $4.8 billion for basic research, data collection and policy analysis.

Okay, that is a lot of money, but not really if you put it in perspective. It is less than 4% of the $700 billion bailout package and less than 5% of the $664 billion Department of Defense 2010 Budget Request. And it is going to save lives instead of destroying them and is guaranteed not to be spent on golf outings and corporate jets.

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will carry out Clinton’s financial promises and if so in what form.

In the meantime, our reaction to the Christmas Day airplane incident is predictably machismo, predicated on deflecting accusations (from both the left and the right) of appearing “flaccid” in response to a would be terrorist who literally used his balls to try to blow up a plane.  We seem hell-bent on ignoring the wisdom of empowering women that Clinton spoke of, focusing instead on over-powering and protecting ourselves with an odd combination of Playboy sci-fi vision

meets Madam Sasha.

And there is reason to believe that we are more than willing to spend quite a bit of money on snake oil solutions to  terrorism (a story that broke in of all places, Playboy and has been roundly ignored by the mainstream media). No question, all this scanning of our minds and private parts is going to cost a pretty bundle (with almost 20,000 airports in the U.S. alone with the cost of these scanning  machines estimated to each cost something having 6 figures, you do the math) and in terms of saving lives be a ridiculously inappropriate expenditure of money.

Which brings us to the bad boy country du jour…  In our attempts to address the issue of Yemen as a terrorist training ground, instead of bombing them to smithereens, we might do well to pay attention to the very wise Helen Thomas who had the temerity to ask during a recent press briefing why the Christmas day bombing took place:

Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents… They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a — long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Why indeed. As I pointed out last week, if you want to cure something, be it breast cancer or terrorism, you need to know what the cause is.  And as Professor Cynthia Enloe has long suggested, to fully address militarism and its harms, you need to look at its impact on women’s lives.  Not surprisingly in Yemen, where a large portion of the population is poor and uneducated, violence against women is a very significant problem,

According to a World Organization Against Torture report published in 2002, one of the first exploratory studies undertaken in Yemen revealed that 46.3% of the women questioned had experienced violence from their spouses or other family members at some point in their lives. Recent studies examining the prevalence of violence against women in Yemen have yielded staggering figures regarding contemporary levels of assault in the nation. Typically, the majority of violent acts against women occur in homes, while the range of what constitutes abuse varies; intimidation, sexual violence, physical force, emotional abuse, and home arrest are all disheartening manifestations of abuse. Research has estimated roughly 50.9% of women suffer from a degree of intimidation on a regular basis, while 54.5% will experience some risk of physical violence at least once in their lifetimes.

Dr. Samir al-Shamiri, a Sociological professor at Aden University, specializing in research of domestic violence in Yemen, has compiled an extensive amount of statistics on the subject in order to increase public awareness of the plight of women. According to his research, 17.3% of women are victims of sexual violence, while 28.2% of women suffer from several restrictions upon their freedom of mobility. Dr. al-Shamiri has further concluded that while 44.5% of women suffer from at least three of the above-mentioned forms of abuse, only 28.2% do not suffer from any form of violence or intimidation. However, there is a distinct possibility that the figure may in actuality be much higher, as it is difficult to acquire a representative polling bases when so many individuals are afraid to discuss their situations.

And in neighboring Saudi Arabia, there are reports that Yemeni women are being used as human shields by Houthi forces.  However, despite Clinton’s rhetoric, empowering Yemeni women is not likely to be an integral part of the U.S. strategy in Yemen, any more than it has been  in Afghanistan or Iraq except as a justification for military action.  However, thanks to organizations such as Rising Voices, Yemeni women are being given opportunities to participate more widely in the political discussion in their country,

Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian of Yemeni Arab descent, has caused much media attention because of his attempted bomb attack on a flight to USA. Another shocking revelation was Abdulmutallab’s conviction that he was trained by AL-Qaeda in Yemen and there are many others in Yemen planning to bring down American jets.

The mainstream media is filled with all these news along with stereotypes but they rarely portray what the common people of Yemen are thinking about. There are not many options to get those perspectives.

With the help of a Rising Voices microgrant, the project “Empowerment of Women Activists in Media Techniques” is teaching blogging to female politicians, activists, and human right workers in Yemen to bring them in global conversation.

There is more on the Rising Voices work in Yemen here.  The U.S. will no doubt spend billions fighting ‘terrorism’ in Yemen with weapons, military personnel and private  contractors (while President Obama has said we won’t send troops, that remains to be seen and does not rule out the use of private contractors), and as it always is, this military response will be detrimental to women’s well-being in Yemen. If anything is done to empower Yemeni women, it will likely be as an afterthought, not in the spirit of Secretary Clinton’s remarks, and that is the true disconnect in regard to women’s human rights, not only for women in Yemen, but throughout the world.

 January 11, 2010  Posted by on January 11, 2010

  One Response to “Secretary Clinton’s Rhetoric, Playboy, Madam Sasha And The Women Of Yemen”

  1. […] expensive to care for those most in need…And just a little over a week ago, Secretary Clinton pledged “$63 billion over six years to improve global health by investing in efforts to […]

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