How the World Can Honor Pakistani 'Daughter of the Nation'

Violence against women and girls should be against international law.

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Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

What kind of ignorant thugs would try to kill a 14 year-old girl because she was advocating school for girls—and do it in the name of religion, any religion? What kind of religion could possibly condone these despicable and cowardly acts? And, why is any violence against women and girls allowed to go on anywhere in the world? Isn't it—at the very least—against "international law"?

Well, sort of.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

In 1993, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the "Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women," article 3 of which details the following "rights" for women:

  1. The right to life;
  2. The right to equality;
  3. The right to liberty and security of person;
  4. The right to equal protection under the law;
  5. The right to be free from all forms of discrimination;
  6. The right to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health;
  7. The right to just and favourable conditions of work;
  8. The right not to be subjected to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  9. And, article 4 of the declaration provides:

    States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.

    [See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

    There is also a U.N. "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women", adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. But while the Convention was ratified by Islamic centered nations, they also took "reservations", i.e., exceptions to it: To the effect that if the Convention was in conflict with Islamic or Sharia Law [and it is] Islamic or Sharia Law would take precedence. The effect of this is to simply nullify most of the Convention's operative provisions.

    The bottom line is that these "high minded" international pronouncements have done very little to protect women from subjugation, humiliation, violence, and torture—too often carried out in the name of "Islamic law." How do we turn the tide against this international shame and perversion of justice?

    Proposed here is a broad-based public diplomacy theme that the United States and other civilized nations fund with both public and private money—and advocate throughout the world. It's also a theme with wide-ranging national security, foreign policy, and economic benefits for our country and other "like minded nations." Likewise, it will operate to identify and isolate those who oppose the effort.

    [See a collection of political cartoons on Iran.]

    The theme is simple: It's the aggressive advocacy of the equal status of women throughout the world—in all aspects of life.

    Here's how we do it: First, we (a consortium of international public sponsors and private donors) organize an international gathering of women in leadership from the entire world, including Islamic countries.

    The reason for this: While not generally known or understood in the West, women really "run" most Islamic countries—and always have. How? Women are the doctors, teachers, accountants, scientists, engineers, technicians, and primary child care givers. This, while the men—mostly poorly educated, if at all—sit around and argue about religion and politics. In fact, "ignorant" is a word that objectively describes many of them, and most certainly includes the assassins of 14 year-old girls who go to school.

    [Read the U.S. News Debate: Can Mitt Romney Best Barack Obama on Foreign Policy?]

    The women leaders would come from business, government, entertainment, law, medicine, science, literature, music, the arts, education, media, sports, academia, and religion, just to name the more traditional professions and areas of expertise.

    Next, we propose the women leaders adopt a set of "universal principles for the individual rights of women" everywhere in the world, independent of politics, religion, geography, economics, and ethnicity. The list would be very basic, and could include, for example:

    • Equal political rights with men
    • Equal economic rights with men
    • Equal wages for equal work
    • Equal property ownership rights with men, including testamentary rights
    • Equal access to heathcare with men
    • Equal rights to privacy with men
    • Equal education opportunities with men
    • Recognition of the special status of motherhood and the importance of the care of young children
    • Freedom to choose partners in marriage
    • Immunity from humiliation, punishment, and all forms of retribution
    • Freedom to dress and appear in public equal with men
    • Freedom from all forms of sexual discrimination
    • [Sheryl WuDunn: Empowering Women Comes Down to Economics]

      Absolutely no exceptions to the principles adopted would be permitted for "inconsistency" with Islamic or Sharia Law. This would serve to identify (in a very public forum driven by intense social media) those countries that could or would not comply with even these basic principles, either in letter or spirit. Why do this? We must work together and put world public pressure on them to change these centuries-old "laws" by moving to more modern, secular systems separating religion from law and politics.

      Perhaps ironically, but not surprisingly, these kind of principles also fly in the face of many other societies—large and small, rich and poor—that advocate, support, or participate in terrorism and violence, whether directly or by financial proxy, and whether in the name of religion or not.

      Most important, it's a dramatic and tangible vehicle to allow Pakistan's brave young Malala Yousufzai to be honored for the true heroine of dramatic social change she is. The modern world owes her this kind of special recognition for her courage, leadership, and vision—and it should be done in her name. In sum, we should do it for her—because she truly represents the moral, social, and political forces for good in the 21st century.

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