The U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on Monday accused post-revolution Egypt of failing its women and denounced the stripping and beating of a female protester as “shocking” and a “disgrace."
Adding to the criticism, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the country’s “ruthless violence” and “inhuman acts” in the suppression of protests in Cairo.
Egyptian security forces have clashed for a fifth straight day with demonstrators demanding an end to military rule as the death toll rose to 13 and hundreds were reported injured, according to Reuters.
The violence – also condemned by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon – has overshadowed the count of an election that shows Islamists in the lead.
In unusually strong language, the impassioned Clinton accused Egypt’s new leaders of mistreatment of women both on the street and in politics since the street revolt nearly a year ago that overthrew leader Hosni Mubarak.
“This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people,” Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University, according to AFP.
In images widely seen over YouTube, helmeted troops were shown beating a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes off to reveal her bra and stomach.
Other pictures circulating on social media networks that have enraged protesters include one of a military policeman looming over a sobbing elderly woman with his truncheon.
“Recent events in Egypt have been particularly shocking. Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Clinton said.
She denounced a “deeply troubling pattern” of military authorities and the major political parties alike keeping Egyptian women out of decision-making.
“At the same time, they have been specifically targeted both by security forces and extremists,” the top U.S. diplomat said.
“Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted and now women are being attacked, stripped and beaten in the streets.”
Responding later to a question by a student, Clinton said that Egyptians and not Americans should be the first ones disturbed by poor treatment of women.
“Beating women is not cultural, it’s criminal and it needs to be addressed and treated as such,” she said to applause.
Clinton, who narrowly lost her bid to be the first female U.S. president, has frequently been outspoken about women’s rights during her tenure as the country’s top diplomat.
She addressed events in Egypt as part of a broader speech in which she argued that peacemaking efforts around the world would benefit from greater involvement by women.
President Barack Obama on Monday signed an executive order setting up a “National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security,” which Clinton said would advance women’s role in peacemaking throughout U.S. government agencies.
“Women are bellwethers of society and, in fact, sometimes they do play the role of canary in the coal mine. They know when communities are fraying and when citizens fear for their safety,” Clinton said.
As part of the new effort, the United States will monitor violence and discrimination against women to help detect future conflicts, Clinton said.
The United States will also step up assistance to grassroots groups working to stop violence against women and increase their economic empowerment.
The first round of grants will cover support for a trauma center for rape survivors in Sudan, economic and legal assistance for women in Central African Republic and better collection of medical evidence to prosecute rampant rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Studies suggest that women’s physical security and higher levels of gender equality correlate with security and peacefulness of entire countries,” Clinton said.
“But political leaders too often overlook women’s knowledge and experience until it’s too late to stop violence from spiraling out of control,” she said.
Ruthless violence and inhuman acts
Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Monday condemned Egypt’s “ruthless violence” and “inhuman acts” in the suppression of protests in Cairo.
“The graphic images of protesters, including women, being brutally clubbed and assaulted, long after the point when they are showing any resistance, are utterly shocking,” Pillay said.
“People lying motionless on the ground are shown on film being smashed on the head and body with sticks. These are life-threatening and inhuman acts that cannot possibly be justified under the guise of restoration of security or crowd control,” she added in a statement, AFP reported.
Pillay said that “some of those who were filmed this weekend, including those viciously clubbing and kicking an apparently unconscious half-naked woman, should be easy to identify.”
“Consequently, there must be arrests and prosecutions.”
She warned that “actions like these simply fuel further anger and protests and make a resolution of Egypt’s political, social and economic problems more difficult to achieve.”
Pillay stressed that “the ruthless violence being used against unarmed women protestors is especially shocking” and pointed to “extremely disturbing reports of the ill-treatment of women in detention.”
“I urge Egypt’s senior military and political leaders to act now or themselves risk future prosecution for complicity in serious crimes.”