WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump often tries to justify his extreme suspicion of Muslims by arguing that they threaten Americans ― particularly women.
Trump likes this argument so much that he incorporated it into official policy, in his executive orders on refugees and citizens of Muslim-majority countries. Both “Muslim ban” documents have directed the Department of Homeland Security to collect and publish what the second calls data on “the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including so-called ‘honor killings,’ in the United States by foreign nationals.”
Advocates for women who actually face that kind of violence were immediately skeptical, seeing Trump’s professed concern as an attempt to frame the problem of violence against women as something unique to Muslim-majority countries. Now they’re pushing back.
In a letter sent to the president and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster Monday night, and exclusively provided to The Huffington Post, Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee, CARE and more than 50 other organizations denounced the president’s ban and his portrayal of the issue.
“As a global crisis, violence against women and girls is not specific to any one country. Connecting ‘gender-based violence against women or girls’ with the travel ban and refugee program suspension is out of sync with the reality that every country, including the United States, suffers from such violence,” the letter reads. “Enacting a travel ban on these countries and suspending the refugee resettlement program does not address the global crisis of violence against women; neither does it offer any solutions to violence against women in the specifically targeted countries.”
The letter notes that Trump’s pause on accepting refugees and issuing new visas to citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen could put women and girls in danger. The travel moratorium does nothing to make women and girls in those countries safer ― and it could trap many of them in the process of migrating away from danger, which often involves giving up one’s social network and any safety resources one might have. Ceasing to issue visas or grant refugee status to displaced people seeking safety in the U.S. could greatly increase the odds that they’ll face exactly the kind of violence the Trump administration says it wants to prevent. The executive orders could even end up keeping women and girls in conflict zones like Syria and Sudan, where rape has been used as a weapon of war.
“Any shutdown of this program or ban restricting travel does not help make women and girls safer,” the organizations’ letter says.
While Trump’s policy fails to offer real recourse for survivors of gender-based violence, it does include some well-known anti-Muslim tropes, the groups note.
“We are further concerned by the executive orders’ singling out of so-called ‘honor killings’ as a type of gender-based violence that is more deserving of concern than other types of violence,” the letter says. “Specifically naming this type of violence in connection with the six Muslim-majority countries listed in the executive order not only promotes and inflames Islamophobia, but it further feeds into the false narrative that violence against women is specific to non-Western cultures.”
Amnesty and the other organizations do significant work in the Muslim-majority world. They are hardly unaware of the dangers and restrictions women can face there. But they’re also familiar with the line Trump is peddling ― and with his other actions, like attacks on American and global reproductive health.
The groups asked Trump to rescind his new order.
The ban is meant to go into effect on Thursday. It already faces legal challenges from eight states, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Washington, and advocates hope to block it from being implemented at all.