Alex Hamasaki, Student Intern
Last Modified: 02:37 a.m. DST, 19 March 2013
EGYPT — The battle between cultural and universal human rights has resurfaced at the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held their 57th conference from March 4 – 15th to approve the declaration that would work toward the elimination of violence against women and children.
The declaration passed on March 15, despite the objections from the Muslim Brotherhood, conservative Muslim countries, and the Vatican. The text of the declaration has not yet been published.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood criticized the document, claiming it was “deceitful” and clashed with Islamic principles about family, community, and Islamic societies. Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Honduras, and the Vatican, though having expressed reservations about the declaration, did not block the adoption of the declaration.
CSW was established in 1946 for the advancement of women and gender equality. The declaration is non-binding, however, Aljazeera reports that diplomats and rights activists say that the declaration carries “enough global weight to pressure countries to improve the lives of women and girls.”
Prior to the passing of the declaration, a participant in the negotiations said that Egypt will seek out an opt-out clause, which would allow countries to implement the declaration according to their own traditions. However, Egypt’s motion failed, several countries saying that this clause would undermine the entire document.
According to the Muslim Brotherhood, the declaration is destructive to the institutions of family and community, and that the declaration calls for the return for the early Jahiliyyah. Jahiliyyah is the Islamic concept of “the state of ignorance of the guidance from God,” referring to the time period prior to the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.
The Brotherhood also decried the declaration’s defense of homosexual rights, declaration of equality in inheritance, the use of contraception and abortion under the name of sexual and reproductive rights, and to cancel the obligatory authorization of the husband in travel, work, going out, or use of contraceptive.
The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the largest political forces in Egypt, and the group won Egypt’s presidency and controls the parliament. Its credo is, “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”
The Brotherhood calls upon rulers of Islamic countries, their Foreign ministers, and their representatives in the UN to reject the declaration. Further, according to the translation of the Arabic statement by Jee Paules, the Muslim Brotherhood “call[s] for women’s organizations to adhere to their religion and the morals of their communities and the elements of our social life and not to be seduced by the deceptive, misleading and destructive calls for urbanization.”
The Associated Press said that even Libya’s top cleric raised similar concerns, saying that the document violates Islamic teachings.
However, according to Aljazeera, Egypt’s delegation said “it would not stand in the way of the declaration for the sake of women’s empowerment.”
The duality between universal and cultural human rights has been long debated. Cultural relativism asserts that human values are far from universal, and vary according to cultural perspectives. Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood argue that human rights are culturally relative and should be subject to State discretion rather than international legal imperative. If the UN were to take the cultural relativism as their stance, States could then use this as a way to declare that their cultural norms were above international law.
Universal human rights suggest that regardless of culture, that there is a baseline of rights assumed for every human being. However, what is considered “universal rights” are constantly changing. Ultimately, the continuation of the fight for finding a medium between universal and cultural rights over time will allow for the opening of avenues for human rights in the international arena.Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report
Student Intern: @aghamasaki
- Muslim Brotherhood: UN Document on Violence Against Women ‘Un-Islamic” (counterjihadreport.com)
- The UN Commission on the Status of Women unmasks equality’s enemies | Jill Filipovic (guardian.co.uk)
- The Muslim Brotherhood has shown its contempt for Egypt’s women | Amira Nowaira (guardian.co.uk)