Karima Bennoune on Fundamentalism, Extremism & Women’s Cultural Rights
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, has just released a new report on the global effects of fundamentalism and extremism on women’s cultural rights, and how best to ensure these rights are protected. In her personal capacity, Bennoune is also the author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism and a public speaker with Peace is Loud.
In developing the report, Bennoune received submissions from 54 UN Member States, academics, human rights institutions and civil society organizations on attacks experienced and witnessed against cultural rights, and strategies used to protect and strengthen these rights. For example, in Burundi, Muslims for Progressive Values and Alliance des imams du corridor Nord pour le développement humanitaire have launched the #ImamsForShe initiative to combat gender apartheid. In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, women have started a journal, Feminist Dissent, to analyze the impact of fundamentalism on women.
Bennoune underscores the significance of connecting fundamentalism and extremism to women’s rights, quoting Nigerian sociologist Zeinabou Hadari: “Every step forward in the fight for women’s rights is a piece of the struggle against fundamentalism.” If we are to successfully counter fundamentalism and extremism, Bennoune writes, we must see women’s rights as an essential part of this effort. She calls on governments to create conditions that allow women to continuously access, participate in and contribute to cultural life, and to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, which include women’s rights. She also emphasises the urgent need to listen to and empower human rights defenders, and prioritize their meaningful inclusion in high-level discussions to fight extremism and fundamentalism.
In her conclusion, Bennoune powerfully calls for “an urgent global feminist riposte”:
We must heed the warning of Polish woman human rights defender, Paulina Wawrzynczyk, who emphasizes the need for global solidarity: “in any country no rights are won for good. We must … continue to raise awareness of … what may be taken away from us”. 89 States, international organizations and civil society must come together to develop comprehensive human rights strategies to defend women’s cultural rights from fundamentalism and extremism, in accordance with international norms.