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U.S. State Dept. Trained 450 Imams on 'Compatibility of Women's Rights and Islam

"...a core focus of our foreign policy."

In the Islamic world, women's rights violations are frequent occurrences. In an effort to address the epidemic, the U.S. State Department has announced that it used a curriculum to train 450 imams (Islamic leaders) from across the world. Their goal? To focus upon the issue, while driving home the "compatibility of women’s rights and Islam."

According to the government, the imam training has been beneficial in addressing these issues, as it focused upon this apparent relationship between the Muslim faith and women's rights.

As reported by CNS News, this revelation was announced in a report entitled, "United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally," which came out on August 10. It explained that the government, quote, "supported a program that promoted women’s rights by training 450 imams using a curriculum on the compatibility of women’s rights and Islam."

The 53-page document, a collaboration between the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is part of a grander plan to help combat gender-based violence across the world. The report followed an executive order issued by Obama on that same day, which read, in part:

Under the leadership of my Administration, the United States has made gender equality and women's empowerment a core focus of our foreign policy. This focus is reflected in our National Security Strategy, the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, and the 2010 U.S. Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Evidence demonstrates that women's empowerment is critical to building stable, democratic societies; to supporting open and accountable governance; to furthering international peace and security; to growing vibrant market economies; and to addressing pressing health and education challenges.

As for the training, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (part of the Department of State) supported and initiated it in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (details about the training were not explicitly given). Through "anecdotal evidence" collected in focus groups and interviews officials learned the following (from the report):

  • One religious leader from Herat (Afghanistan) explained that since participating in project trainings, when he presides over marriages, whether he officiates the wedding ceremony or not, he asks the age of the bride and for proof of her consent, and he uses the opportunity to publicly discuss the importance of the bride’s consent to marriage. He even reported stopping a marriage when he found out that the bride had not given her consent.
  • Focus group participants agreed that since their local imams have started discussing women’s right to education in Friday sermons, the barriers for women going to school have been reduced.
  • Several focus group participants recounted stories about women’s families providing them with a fair share of inheritance after the imams in their communities were influenced by the curriculum and trainings.
  • Community members in the focus groups agreed that most imams have been speaking out about women’s rights in Islam, women’s inheritance rights, and condemning violence against women.
  • In some communities, wives of imams trained in the curriculum were using it to educate women in their communities of their rights.

As CNS notes, the government defines gender-based violence as something that occurs on the basis of a person's biological sex, gender identity -- or how someone is seen to be following the male and female norms within a culture. With this being the case, the imam training seemed entirely focused upon women and their treatment in the Middle East. The report concludes as follows, showcasing the U.S. commitment to stopping gender-based violence:

To bolster its efforts in preventing and responding to gender-based violence, the United States has developed a coordinated and integrated strategy that leverages the expertise and capabilities of its various and diverse departments and agencies. This strategy seeks to maximize impact through

coordination, integration, improved data collection and research, and effective and holistic programming. Equally important, the United States must collaborate with other governments and non-governmental partners, including civil society and the private sector, both in the United States and

abroad to use their knowledge, capacity, and innovation to address gender-based violence around the world.

Ultimately, the United States’ goal is to eliminate gender-based violence. Such an achievement would not only help ensure that individuals across the globe can reach their full potential but also strengthen the United States’ foreign policy and foreign assistance priorities. This strategy provides a blueprint to guide the United States’ next steps in working to end gender-based violence.

The government has spent a large sum of money on these programs, with $141.1 million going to anti-gender-based violence programs around the globe in FY2013.

The issue, of course, is nothing new. Throughout the past two years, TheBlaze has highlighted the many gender-based issues that women have faced in the Middle East. Take, for instance, the ban on female driving in Saudi Arabia, the alleged "virginity tests" in Egypt and the specific instance of a woman facing the death penalty over purportedly speaking negatively about the Prophet Mohammed, to name a few examples.

(H/T: CNS News)

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