Women Should 'Play A Part' In The 'New Egypt'

As political uprisings transform the Arab world, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging governments to include women in decision making. Clinton has been an advocate of women's rights and has highlighted that during her tenure at the State Department.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro, filling in for Steve Inskeep who's in Cairo.

In the largely peaceful revolutions that toppled the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, women filled the squares alongside their husbands, fathers and sons. Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to ensure that women play a role in governments throughout the Muslim world. Yesterday, Clinton handed out the annual Women of Courage awards. She and some of the recipients sat down with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Women were out on the streets in Cairo in large numbers when Hosni Mubarak was toppled. But when it came time to start rewriting the constitution, it was only men at the table. And Secretary Of State Clinton took notice.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Because it would be a shame, with all of the extraordinary change that's going on in Egypt if women were somehow not given their opportunity to be part of bringing about the new Egypt.

KELEMEN: Clinton says she talks about this when she gets on the phone with Egyptian officials.

Secretary CLINTON: I think it's important that we always raise it, because we think it will be a better outcome. We don't want to see Egypt, or Tunisia, or any place eliminate half the population when they think about the future. That would make no sense at all.

KELEMEN: She was speaking to NPR alongside several of the recipients of this year's Women of Courage awards, including a Jordanian, Eva Abu Halaweh, who says women's rights must be part of the reform movement in her country. But asked what she would most like to see from the U.S. right now, the 36-year-old called on the secretary to do more to bring about a Palestinian state.

Ms. EVA ABU HALAWEH: We are looking for a change and for more courage towards the Palestinian issue. I depend on humanitarian sense, that when she watch what's happening now in Palestine, they will get change. I believe on her humanitarian sense.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton says Palestinians deserve their own state and says now more than ever there should be a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But she didn't tip her hand on any new diplomatic initiative.

Another woman who was honored at the State Department yesterday was a former child bride in Pakistan, the first in her village to get a divorce and go on to graduate from high school. Ghulam Sughra now runs a non-profit to help women in rural villages and she counts on U.S. support.

Ms. GHULAM SUGHRA: I can't do anything in Pakistan without support and help. In Pakistan, a woman is like animals. There is male dominant society in Pakistan. Male is dominant.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton calls it lonely work.

Secretary CLINTON: You know, to start a school in her village in Pakistan was an act of such enormous bravery, because most of the people didn't see any reason why girls should go to school. And it seems like, in some respects, an obvious sort of thing. Of course, girls should go to school, but she has to fight for that every single day, and so we want to help her.

KELEMEN: In neighboring Afghanistan, though, the Washington Post reported recently on changes in a U.S. aid program on land grants. The U.S. dropped a provision that would have required the contractor to meet certain goals to promote women's rights.

Clinton's special envoy for women's affairs confirmed that but denied that this reflects any broader change in policy. And Melanne Verveer says the U.S. is keeping women in mind as it tries to pull the Taliban into a peace process.

Ms. MELANNE VERVEER: Women want an end to the conflict more than anybody. But any potential for peace will be subverted if women's voices are marginalized or silenced. And that's our effort. It is very central to what we're doing there, because the prospect for peace won't succeed without it.

KELEMEN: Among the 10 recipients of yesterday's State Department award was a prosecutor from Afghanistan, Maria Bashir, who told reporters that she's nervous about what happens to women once NATO troops leave.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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