There is a campaign underway in Egypt headed by a Muslim political party to restore the centuries-old practice of female genital mutilation. This custom which had been carried out for centuries was banned during the Mubarak administration. Yet unofficially, it's still a rite of passage for many girls in that and many other countries in Africa as well as in Muslim immigrant communities in Europe and America. In Egypt alone, it's estimated that as many as 70--90% of the women have been subjected to this brutal act at some time in their early lives.
Egyptian women's rights groups have voiced opposition to legal reinstatement of this tradition. But the fact that the Parliament would even consider its revival indicates that legal protection for women from ever again having to face such an attack on their freedom from such forced maiming was never that secure in the first place.
Just how does the American extreme right wing political/ religious mentality regarding women's rights differ from its Middle Eastern counterpart? Not very much. A Mississippi lawmaker applauding that state's recent total ban on abortion in effect declared that he has no problem with desperate women resorting to coat hangers to end their pregnancies. Although such self-induced abortions are obviously dangerous to the health and often the lives of these women, the legislator said, "...hey you have to have moral values. You have to start somewhere, and that's what we've decided to do."
This callousness and contempt for woman is not an isolated incident. In March, another lawmaker, this time from Georgia, in support of that state's legislation to outlaw all abortions after the fifth month even if the fetus is unlikely to survive, compared women to farm livestock. He said that if cows and pigs can carry dead fetuses to term, women should be required to do likewise. The law known as House Bill 954 passed the Georgia State Assembly with a vote of 102—65.
One might expect such twisted and ignorant thinking from politicians and voters in the above bible belt states.. However, there is also a bill in Congress that would outlaw abortions in Washington D.C. under any circumstances including rape, incest or protection of the woman's health after the 20th week. A woman who carries a dead or nonviable fetus to term, especially involuntarily, obviously faces both physical and mental hazards. Hence, if such legislation can be considered as a law for our nation's capital, is any part of America safe from anti-choice fanatics?
So overall, women's personal freedom to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy is probably at greatest risk since Roe vs. Wade. In that sense, if such rights of women in the U.S. can be abrogated just like in Egypt, then do their basic freedoms have any meaning at all in this country? (The same question could be asked for the loss of rights for of all Americans since 9-11, and there there could be a relationship between the two issues. But that's a topic for another post).
And the sad thing is that women themselves have often played a role in this backwards march, both in the Middle East and the U.S. In the former, many of the supporters of the proposed revival of female genital mutilation in Egypt are midwives who perform this procedure and whose livelihoods have been affected by the present prohibition. Even victims themselves want their daughters and granddaughters to undergo FGM in the name of "purity". As for America, one of the six sponsors of House Bill 954 in Georgia is Donna Sheldon. In the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the author of a bill in that confers personhood on a fertilized egg is Rep. Lisa Billy, who also also authored the Oklahoma law requiring ultrasounds for abortion seekers. (Fortunately, this legislation was struck down in court). Not surprisingly, these officials are Republicans, as are many other women at various levels of political participation. Their affiliation with the GOP which no longer has a moderate wing and is mainly composed of conservative Christians points up that it's not just men who are to blame for carrying out that party's war on women.
In short, Americans need to remember that when (rightfully) criticizing religion-based gender repression in other parts of the world, we should keep in mind that the rights of women in the U.S.are no less at risk. American freethinkers and other progressives may not be able to make changes in Egypt, but we don't have to put up with attacks by theistic groups on gender equality in our own country.