With advice and counsel from the History in Action e-mail list, I wrote up the Open Letter below to protest the way the media slanders the women’s movement as indifferent to the human rights of women in the developing and/or Muslim world. Fact: it’s feminists who first identified atrocities against women around the world–female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, spousal violence, rape– as violations of human rights, not family matters or customs of no state importance. It is feminists who have consistently pushed for women’s rights to education, health care, and legal and social equality and who’ve pushed organizations from the UN to Amnesty International to broaden their perspective to include women’s rights to be free from violence and coercion. “Women’s rights are human rights” was not a slogan dreamed up by David Horowitz or Christina Hoff Sommers.
In only four days, the Open Letter has gathered 700 signatures. it’s been signed by people from all walks of life and every part of the country: writers, scholars, students, activists, leaders of feminist organizations and global health organizations, doctors, nurses, kindergarten teachers, clergypeople, stay-home mothers and so on and on–to say nothing of a whole bunch of people who simply describe themselves as “feminist.”
If you’d like to sign, send your name to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure include how you would like to be identified; for example, writer, professor (with department and university), activist, astronaut, parent, movie star. if you are active with a feminist/progressive or global organization or NGO, that would be a good thing to mention. I would like the list to show that all sorts of women, and men, are feminists and how many are actively working for women’s human rights. And yes, men can sign!
An Open Letter from American Feminists
Columnists and opinion writers from The Weekly Standard to the Washington Post to Slate have recently accused American feminists of focusing obsessively on minor or even nonexistent injustices in the United States while ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world. A number of reasons are given for this supposed neglect: narcissism, ideological rigidity, reflexive anti-Americanism, fear of seeming insensitive or even racist. Yet what is the evidence for this apparently now broadly accepted claim that feminists don’t support the struggles of women around the globe? It usually comes down to a quick scan of the home page of the National Organization for Women’s website, observing that a particular writer hasn’t covered a particular outrage, plus a handful of quotes wrenched out of context.
In fact, as a bit of research would easily show, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of US feminist organizations involved in promoting women’s rights and well-being around the globe–V-Day, Equality Now, MADRE, the Global Fund for Women, the International Women’s Health Coalition and Feminist Majority, to name some of the most prominent. (The National Organization for Women itself has a section on its website devoted to global feminism, on which it denounces a wide array of practices including female genital mutilation (FGM), “honor” murder, trafficking, dowry deaths and domestic violence). Feminists at Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have moved those organizations to add the rights of women and girls to their agenda. Feminist magazines and blogs–Ms. magazine, Feministing.com, Salon.com’s Broadsheet column, womensenews.com (which has an edition in Arabic)–as well as feminist reporters and commentators in the mainstream media, regularly report on and condemn outrages against women wherever they occur, from rape, battery and murder in the US to the denial of women’s human rights in the developing or Muslim world.
As feminists, we call on journalists and opinion writers to report the true position of our movement. We believe that women’s rights are human rights, and stand in solidarity with our sisters who are fighting for equal political, economic, social and reproductive rights around the globe. Specifically, contrary to the accusations of pundits, we support their struggle against female genital mutilation, “honor” murder, forced marriage, child marriage, compulsory Islamic dress codes, the criminalization of sex outside marriage, brutal punishments like lashing and stoning, family laws that favor men and that place adult women under the legal power of fathers, brothers, and husbands, and laws that discount legal testimony made by women. We strongly oppose the denial of education, health care and equal political and economic rights to women.
We reject the use of women’s rights language to justify invading foreign countries. Instead, we call on the United States government to live up to its expressed commitment to women’s rights through peaceful means. Specifically, we call upon it to:
–offer asylum to women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution, including female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and forced marriage;
–promote women’s rights and well-being in all their foreign policy and foreign aid decisions;
–use its diplomatic powers to pressure its allies–especially Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world for women–to embrace women’s rights;
–drop the Mexico City policy–aka the “gag rule”–which bars funds for AIDS- related and contraception-related health services abroad if they provide abortions, abortion information, or advocate for legalizing abortion;
–generously support the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports women’s reproductive health including safe maternity around the globe, and whose funding is vetoed every year by President Bush;
–become a signatory to The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the basic UN women’s human rights document, now signed by 185 nations. The US is one of a handful of holdouts, along with Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.
Finally, we call upon the United States, and all the industrialized nations of the West, to share their unprecedented wealth, often gained at the expense of the developing world, with those who need it in such a way that women benefit.
Katha Pollitt, writer
Marge Piercy, writer
Susan Faludi, writer
Alix Kates Shulman, writer
Julianne Malveaux, president, Bennett College for Women
Anne Lamott, writer
Mary Gordon, writer
Linda Gordon, historian, NYU
Jennifer Baumgardner, writer
Ruth Rosen, historian
Jane Smiley, writer
Anna Fels,MD, psychiatrist and writer
Debra Dickerson, writer
Margo Jefferson, writer
Jessica Valenti, writer
Dana Goldstein, The American Prospect
Karen Houppert, writer
Gloria Jacobs, The Feminist Press
Carole Joffe, professor of sociology, UC Davis
Janet Afary, Middle East historian, Purdue University
And more than 700 more women and men.
Please add your name to this powerful list, and thanks.
Update: You can read the complete list of signatories to date here, and, of course, you’re most welcome to sign the letter at any time.