Prior to its overthrow, the Taliban also killed gays by throwing them from buildings, as directed by Islamic texts.
On Dec. 6, Clinton used a speech in Geneva to challenge Islamic countries to establish rights and respect for gays and lesbians. “Gay people are born into and belong in every society around the world,” she said, including in “all faiths.”
Nuland downplayed Clinton’s new visibility as a response to the rise of the Islamist parties. “She’s played a large role all the way through,’ Nuland said. “I would argue that what we have are the unbelievable historical changes of 2011, where the U.S. has had to speak out and stand on the side of our values and our interests.”
But the new Dec. 19 action plan on women highlights Clinton’s growing role.
“It was an administration initiative, led by the White House and State… the Department has a cell [of staff members] that works on these issues,” said Nuland.
According to a White House statement, the policy to aid women offers “a fundamental change in how the U.S. will approach its diplomatic, military, and development-based support to women in areas of conflict, by ensuring that their perspectives and considerations of gender are woven into the fabric of how the United States approaches peace processes, conflict prevention, the protection of civilians, and humanitarian assistance.”
The new policy will push government agencies and aid groups to document their efforts to aid women, said Shoemaker. Especially in U.S. agencies that deal with Arab countries, the goal of aiding women is a low priority and gets little funding, she said.
For example, Obama waged a war to remove Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, but refused to commit ground troops. Without ground troops, the United States has little influence over the post-war government. In October, leading figures in the new government promised to reestablish Islamic polygamy and Sharia law. “That’s been brought up a lot” during feminists’ discussions in Europe, said Shoemaker.
Clinton underlined the Libyan problem Dec. 16. “At a conference organized by women activists in Tripoli last month, the leaders of the transition acknowledged that Libyan women had played a vital role in the revolution and promised they would be full and equal participants in a new Libya. Well, so far, out of 30 new government ministers, two are women,” Clinton said.
In Tunisia, the brotherhood-affiliated Ennahda Party won 40 percent of the parliament’s seats in an October election, giving it the dominant role in the country’s politics. Again, Clinton has highlighted the democratic pushback, saying “in Tunisia, women strongly reacted to suggestions that the personal status code might be amended to roll back their rights.”
However, Clinton, like Obama, does not tag Islam for the difficulties faced by women in the Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
Shoemaker said the U.S. government needs to get involved in Arab politics immediately.
The U.S. government “can have a very significant impact in pushing this issues” because the new Arab governments have not yet established policies that sideline women, she said. Women have played an important role in ousting the dictatorships, she said, and it would be “inexcusable… if we leave out those very people who are working for those goals.”
“It is easier to make broad pronouncements, but when it comes to the immediate crisis, that’s the real challenge — whether this will be implemented effectively,” Shoemaker said.