In the U.S, our image of the 21st century woman is confident, independent, educated and empowered.
But for many women around the globe, these are still things they simply dream about. Archaic laws and treatment, violence, repression and discrimination are still their realities.
Although literacy, health and political and economic empowerment are a few of the major indicators of women's status in a country, disadvantages for women are so widespread in most places that it's difficult to pin-point which country is a worst place for women to live than others.
The general consensus, however, dictates that Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Qatar are among the worst offenders of women's rights violations. And aside from their mistreatment of women, the five nations also have one more thing in common – they are all allies of America.
President Obama's commitment to women's rights has been clear since the day he stepped into his office for his first term and signed his first bill into law – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. However, this commitment to women's rights hasn't transferred over from his domestic policy to his foreign policy, and this is clear as the president continues to create and maintain alliances with nations that have often been criticized for their lack of women's rights and overall mistreatment.
Saudi Arabia was just recently criticized for the beheading of a young Sri Lankan maid, though this isn't the first time the country has been faced with backlash for its treatment of women. Women in the gulf nation are mostly treated as dependent upon men, forced to live under the guardianship of a male relative, also known as a mehrem. They are also often deprived of the simple luxuries we take for granted such as driving a car and mingling with the opposite sex in public.
In Afghanistan, despite the enactment of the Elimination of Violence against Women law in August 2009, enforcement has been extremely weak. A report carried out by the UN late last year found that women were still frequent victims of abuse, rape cases, forced marriages and domestic violence. Moreover, according to the report, incidents of such abuse remained largely un-reported due to social norms and cultural restraints.
Qatar, according to the Human Rights Watch report of 2012, still has no law that specifically criminalizes domestic violence. The government also does not publish data on incidents of domestic violence, despite the fact that cases of abuse continue to be a problem for women and children. Qatar also adjudicates family law in religious courts in which judges base their rulings based upon their personal interpretations of Islamic law. It has been reported that family law generally discriminates against women in matters of divorce, inheritance and child custody, often giving men a privileged status in these cases.
But the question is – should President Obama be allying and working with countries that so blatantly accept the abuse of women? Do his dealings with these countries show him to be a major hypocrite on women's rights?
My answer is no.
Even if the president wanted to, other than applying diplomatic pressure, he couldn't enforce other countries to uphold the same level of women's rights that we enjoy here; at least not without endangering America's personal interest in a number of countries around the globe.
Each country dictates law according to their own morals, beliefs or religion, making the idea of setting a standard set of rights – for anyone – nearly impossible.
Moreover, if we started to base our dealings with nations according to our own social norms and standards, would we be ready to stop manufacturing and buying goods from China as yet another case of child labor was recently discovered?
Or, on the flipside, are we prepared for other countries, such as Saudi Arabia to deal with us based on their social norms and standards?