Outreach to Women in Muslim-Majority CountriesRemarks to Representatives of Women's Organizations, Including Muslim American Women
July 16, 2002
Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and other Department of State officers met with representatives of women’s organizations, including Muslim-American women, at the Department of State on July 16th. Discussion focused on recent developments in Afghanistan and on the State Department’s interests in expanding its contacts and programs for women in Muslim-majority countries. Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues April Palmerlee discussed her recent trip to Afghanistan, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen. Representatives from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs discussed Department programs that have been developed for women in Muslim-majority countries.
Under Secretary Dobriansky noted that Department officials had met with representatives of Afghan-American organizations frequently in the past. Rather than limiting discussion to Afghanistan, she said she wanted to speak more broadly, looking at women in Muslim-majority countries. She said that a small window had been opened to undertake more aggressively collaboration on women’s programs in these countries.
- Department of State: Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs; April Palmerlee, Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues; Rick Ruth, Director of Policy and Evaluation, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; and Monica Kladakis, Senior Coordinator for Democracy Human Rights and Labor.
The Department of State is considering ways to expand its interaction with women in Muslim-majority countries, including:
- Developing exchange programs
- Encouraging women’s participation in civil society
In this, we will be guided partly by the findings of the UN Development Program’s Arab Human Development Report, which spoke to the need to develop:
- Democratic institutions and civil society
- Women’s capabilities
- Positive steps taken in the area of political participation were noted in Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar. In Oman, women have been elected to the Parliament. In Bahrain, women are standing for office. The new Constitution in Qatar is expected to allow women to serve in elected office.
Human Rights Monitoring:
- The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) increasingly is developing programs directed at Muslim-majority countries. This year projects are primarily focusing on Central Asia. Next year, DRL will expand its programming to other Muslim-majority countries.
- In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, DRL is funding the creation of human rights NGO Resource Centers where activists can meet to discuss political and human rights issues. The centers will include libraries of books on governance, human rights, etc. and computers on which people can access the Internet.
- Among the programs DRL is sponsoring in the Middle East are an independent media program, programs to support democratic activists at the grass roots level, and programs increasing the capacity of trade unions.
- These programs focusing on freedom of association, freedom of expression and participatory government, are devised to address the root causes of extremism.
- A program in the Gulf states addresses electoral processes.
Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)
- The mandate of ECA is to promote mutual understanding.
- In September, ECA is hosting a Fulbright conference in Istanbul, which will draw women from the Middle East and South Asia.
- ECA is discussing with Muslim-majority countries their interest in participating in a Partnership for Learning in which countries will engage in a sustained dialogue on methods to address challenges resulting from the youth bulge in these countries.
- The State Department has issued a report to Congress on U.S. Support for Afghan Women, Children and Refugees.
- Dr. Sima Samar has been appointed to Chair the Human Rights Commission. It is a position in which she will have an important opportunity to influence the future of Afghanistan, especially women.
- We are working already with Dr. Sima Samar and Minister Habiba Sarabi, the new Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs.
- The U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council is sponsoring a project that will bring a group of women working in the government of Afghanistan to the U.S. for leadership, computer and grant writing education. ECA is implementing this project.
- Ms. Palmerlee visited the Women’s Society in Bahrain during her travels. Composed mostly of working class women, the Women’s Society has established committees on children’s issues, the environment, and personal status law to address relevant societal concerns.
- Women in Saudi Arabia had welcomed outreach ideas, but wanted to participate in such programs under their own terms, and at a pace and tenor which they could direct.
- One member of the audience asked if women would be brought to the U.S. to observe 2002 elections. The speakers noted that the government routinely brings foreign observers here to observe political campaigns and elections, especially during presidential election years.
- Another person inquired about measures to combat the Kuwaiti Parliament’s refusal to permit women to vote. Another member of the audience said that an Arab women parliamentary delegation went to Kuwait to discuss this issue with Kuwaiti parliamentarians.
- Another participant spoke about the need for greater security and to disarm the militias in Afghanistan.
- An NGO leader noted that women from Muslim-majority countries had expressed an interest in participating in programs developed for both men and women, saying it was better to organize programs that mainstreamed women, rather than develop women-only programs.
- Another person said that it is not enough to talk to Westernized women in the Middle East. It is essential to engage with more conservative women. She said it is vital to bring them into the process.
- Finally, one participant urged the U.S. to address the issues arising out of American bombing at Uruzgan, including the question of compensation.