Women’s rights movements are advancing around the world through increased employment opportunities in the Middle East, added legal protections against gangs in Central America and greater political representation in Africa. As a result, things are trending in the right direction. But, there’s more that can be done.
Here are three ways American conservatives can help this agenda.
First, we must push for a more concerted all-of-government approach toward advancing women’s rights. For a start, we should focus on more effectively supporting those in foreign governments and stakeholder alliances who support women’s rights.
Take Pakistan. In recent weeks, we’ve learned of an atrocity against a young woman in the South Asian nation: a 15-year-old girl was — under tribal authority orders — kidnapped, strangled and burned for helping a friend elope with her boyfriend. But while Pakistani authorities have arrested numerous suspects, this kind of grotesque incident occurs far too often. Indeed, many Pakistani Islamists are angrier about the musings of a young Pakistani expat than they are at the slaughter and torture of this child.
But it’s not just Pakistan where women’s rights struggles are too often defined by innocent blood. Consider acid attacks in Bangladesh. While they form a relatively small proportion of the many annual attacks on women and girls in Bangladesh, their extreme brutality reflects the nation’s continuing struggle against deep-seated misogyny, especially in rural communities ungoverned by the reach of the law. Or how about female genital mutilation across Africa? Or trafficking in Eastern Europe? In each of these cases, gross human rights abuses are enabled by the unwillingness or inability of political actors to prevent them. And while some of this takes root in political ideology, much could be improved by U.S. action to deter politicians from tolerating abuse. American conservatives can help right that wrong.
Recognizing the strategic limits and costs of using direct and overt power — such as U.S. military might to advance women’s rights — we should instead use our resources more effectively. For example, we could prioritize more USAID funding on programs that have verifiable outcomes for women at management and delivery levels. Instead of building schools in extremist neighborhoods that cannot be defended or used, we should focus on sustainable projects that engage female stakeholders and incorporate positive central and local government engagement.
But we also need to be more aggressive. As such, conservatives should push for a presidential covert action finding to authorize intelligence community funding to foreign politicians who support basic women’s rights. Many politicians around the world are corrupt, but if paying limited sums can compel them towards advancing women’s rights, covert action is justified.
Simultaneously, we should target political entities who tolerate abuse. As I’ve explained, the NSA has a great portfolio of knowledge on foreign politicos. We should use that information to exert pressure on malevolent actors to support women’s rights. And in the worse cases, as with individuals like Pakistani Taliban leaders, we should deploy the drones.
Second, we should rebuff those who excuse injustice at the altar of political correctness. Sadly, in the United States today, too many on the Left are unwilling to recognize the unique problems in political Islam with regards to women’s rights. As I noted with 2014’s “Alice in Arabia” ABC-TV controversy, “when five-year-old girls live and die as human piñatas, these are not simply ‘real-life difficulties.’”
Of course, the key battleground in this effort isn’t at home but abroad. To that end, American conservative women can help lead the PR campaign for women’s rights. Michelle Obama’s 2015 visit to Saudi Arabia offers a powerful example. Evidently unimpressed by the House of Saud’s ongoing flirtation with Wahhabi clerics — who despise women — the First Lady refused to wear a veil. It was a small act, but a significant one. It brought international attention to Saudi Arabia’s internal societal debates on its future. Facing declining oil prices, Saudi Arabia must reform. But while the reformist camp seeks economic diversification and expanded female rights to help empower society and the economy, the Wahhabi geriatrics want to double down on their orthodoxy of misogyny.
The same is true with Iran. While many western liberals paint Iran as a modernizing partner, the reality is quite different. Female protesters in Iran are abused horrifically at the hands of the secret police. American conservative women could stand up for their Iranian counterparts, even if the Obama Administration will not.
Third, unifying national attention to this cause, we should provide an annual congressional award to a woman or girl who has advanced female rights around the world. This should involve an address to a joint session of congress. It would be a small gesture in and of itself, but would draw global attention to the united urgency of the U.S. government to advance women’s rights.
At the core of this new agenda is a very traditional conservative belief: our understanding that the United States remains the uniquely powerful force for good in the world. Even as we recognize our limits, we must not stand idle in the struggle for unalienable moral values.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.