‘Giving women some rights could destroy society’

Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood warned that a UN declaration on women’s rights could destroy society, by allowing a woman to travel, work, and use contraception without her husband’s approval and letting her control family spending.

The Islamist movement that backs the president, Mohamed Morsi, gave 10 reasons why Muslim countries should “reject and condemn” the declaration, which the UN Commission on the Status of Women was racing to negotiate a consensus deal on by last night.

Despite two weeks of negotiations with 190 governments, the help of some 6,000 participants, and months of planning — there was still no deal as of Thursday.

The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party propelled Morsi to power in June, posted the statement on its website, and the website of the party.

Egypt has joined Iran, Russia, and the Vatican — dubbed an “unholy alliance” by some diplomats — in threatening to derail the women’s rights declaration by objecting to language on sexual, reproductive, and gay rights.

The Muslim Brotherhood said the declaration would give “wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger”.

US ambassador Susan Rice last week touted at the commission progress made by the US in reducing the rate of violence against women by their partners.

“All 50 states in our union now have laws that treat date rape or spousal rape as just as much of a crime as rape by a stranger,” she said.

“We cannot live in truly free societies, if women and girls are not free to reach their full potential.”

The contrasting views show the gap that needed to be breached in negotiations on the declaration, which this year is focused on urging an end to violence against women and girls.

The commission failed to agree a declaration last year on a theme of empowering rural women due to similar disagreements.

Egypt proposed an amendment, diplomats say, that would allow countries to avoid implementing the declaration if it clashed with national laws, religious or cultural values. But some say this would undermine the entire declaration.

The Muslim Brotherhood warned that the declaration would give girls sexual freedom, legalise abortion, provide teenagers with contraceptives, give equality to women in marriage, and require men and women to share duties such as child care and chores.

It said the declaration would allow “equal rights to homosexuals, and provide protection and respect for prostitutes” and “equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships”.

A coalition of Arab human rights groups — from Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Tunisia — called on countries at the commission to stop using religion, culture, and tradition to justify abuse of women.

“The current positions taken by some Arab governments at this meeting is clearly not representative of civil society views, aspirations or best practices regarding the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls within our countries,” said the statement issued by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies.

Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile and head of UN Women, said the commission was unable to reach a deal a decade ago when it last focused on the theme of women’s rights and ending violence against women.

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