Woman Up

Why Hillary Clinton needs to stand up for the women of Egypt.

Hillary Clinton is doing something this weekend that no U.S. secretary of state has ever done: meeting with a democratically elected president of Egypt. The free and fair election that brought Mohamed Morsi to office was a milestone in Egypt's transition to democracy, and Clinton's meeting is an important symbolic gesture to acknowledge his legitimacy as Egypt's new leader.

But the meeting should be about more than just symbolism. While Morsi has pledged to respect the rights of all Egyptians and name a woman to be one of his vice presidents, there is good reason to question his commitment to equality and pluralism. As a senior Muslim Brotherhood official (he recently resigned to assume the presidency), he represented the group's older, more conservative wing, helping draft a 2007 platform that called for a council of Islamic scholars to vet legislation for its compatibility with Islamic law and held that a woman could not be president of Egypt. More recently, during the presidential campaign, he used the slogan, "The Quran is our constitution."

Clinton is in a unique position to press the president to demonstrate his support for the rights of all Egyptians -- including women -- given her longtime leadership on behalf of the rights of women and girls. From her seminal speech at the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference, where she famously declared that "women's rights are human rights," to her recent efforts to promote women's participation in peace and security efforts, she has been a persistent and eloquent champion of women's rights at home and abroad. Clinton can cement this legacy when she meets with Morsi by standing up for Egyptian women.

While the Muslim Brotherhood's policies are clearly discriminatory toward women, the problems facing Egyptian women long predate the organization's rise to power. Under former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, women were grossly underrepresented in parliament and senior government positions, and security officials subjected female detainees to sexual assaults in the form of "virginity tests," which have continued under the military regime that replaced him. A court ruling banned the practice in December 2011, but in an important test case in March, a military court acquitted an army doctor accused of performing "virginity tests" on women apprehended during the 2011 protests in Tahrir Square.

Women, meanwhile, were at the forefront of the Egyptian uprising. According to a recent Gallup poll, 30 percent of participants in the revolution were women, and more women (82 percent) than men (75 percent) supported its aims. But progress for women, like progress overall, has been elusive during this period of transition and military rule.

The Cairo-based Nazra for Feminist Studies, for instance, has documented many recent incidents of violence against women, and posted testimonies from women who were sexually assaulted in and around Tahir Square. The attacks, says Nazra, are "calculated and organized so as to scare women away from the public sphere, to punish women for their participation, and to keep them at home."

In the recently disbanded parliament -- which Morsi attempted to reconvene, triggering a showdown with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- only eight of the 508 members were women. Put another way, women made up less than two percent of parliament in a country whose population is almost 50 percent female. During its brief existence, the male and Islamist-dominated body took up proposals to decrease the marriage age for girls from 16 to 14 and revoke a woman's right to divorce her husband.

The Egyptian law granting women the right to file for divorce, enacted in 2000, was championed by former first lady Suzanne Mubarak, who was seen with some justification as a women's rights advocate. Yet she hurt the cause as much as she helped it as her campaigns were associated with a despised regime, one that denied fundamental rights to Egyptians, including women. Egypt's women need new champions in government who possess real power.

My organization, Human Rights First, asked Mozn Hassan, Nazra's founder and executive director, what issues Clinton ought to raise with Morsi. "Representation for women in [the] next parliament is important," she told us, "in addition to fair representation for women in the new cabinet." She urged the secretary of state to press Morsi to make good on his promise to select a woman as one of his vice presidents and to appoint women to other important positions.

Hassan also encouraged Clinton to mention violence against women and secure Morsi's commitment to take concrete steps -- such as a pledge to fight for investigations into charges of sexual assault and prosecutions of those responsible -- to combat this growing problem. She should also urge Morsi to support the codification of women's equality in the new constitution, which is being drafted, by embracing language that tracks with the international human rights treaties that Egypt has already signed.

Some have claimed that only secular, wealthy Egyptian women -- not the religious, working-class majority -- support women's equality. But Egyptian feminist Dina Wahba has argued that this oft-cited dichotomy is false. A recent Gallup poll supports her view, revealing that religious Egyptian women are no less likely than their secular counterparts to support equality. Overall, 86 percent of Egyptian women believe they should have the same legal rights as men. Eighty-nine percent say girls should have equal access to education, 89 percent believe women should be able to work outside the home, and 86 percent say women should be able to initiate divorce.

By championing women's rights, then, Clinton will be taking a position that is broadly popular with Egyptian women, even as many women -- and men -- remain leery of American involvement in their country's affairs. They're well aware that the United States supported and armed the Mubarak regime for three decades and continues to send aid to the Egyptian military despite its resistance to democratic reform.

Many Egyptians are skeptical not just of American motives, but also of Clinton herself. In 2009, when many future revolutionaries were fighting for democratic reforms, she made a point of publicly embracing Mubarak and his wife as family friends. And when the revolution erupted in 2011, her initial assessment that "the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people" angered democracy activists.

Clinton could overcome skepticism in Egypt by living up to her well-earned reputation as a champion of women's rights and by fulfilling her inspiring vision of "putting people at the center" of U.S. foreign policy. As she said in April, in reference to activists fighting for freedom around the world, "America needs to be on their side."

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images


Shipping Away Jobs and Common Sense

In demonizing outsourcing, both Obama and Romney are playing a stupid political game with the U.S. economy.

Who's the bigger outsourcer, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama? To judge by their spooky television ads, being an outsourcer is right up there with letting Willie Horton out on furlough. Romney says Obama's stimulus package spent billions helping foreign companies, and Obama says Romney practically invented the notion of shifting jobs overseas. Lately, it seems like this question is being asked by a lot of people who don't really care what the term "outsourcing" actually means. Outsourcing isn't all bad, as both candidates surely know -- but dare not say. In their lines of work, outsourcing is also pretty hard to avoid.

Outsourcing is a straightforward principle: Paying someone else to do something you could do yourself. For a company, outsourcing could mean contracting a janitorial service instead of hiring its own janitor. For you and me, outsourcing is as simple as going out to dinner; it's just paying someone else to do the night's cooking and serving.

As the decision-maker in your business or household, you might outsource a job because you don't have the time to do it, or because having someone else do it turns out to be cheaper. You might even outsource a job when doing it in-house would actually be less expensive, if someone else can do it much better.

This kind of outsourcing is often beneficial for both companies and consumers. In theory, it should lower prices, improve quality, take advantage of market efficiencies, and free up resources for other investments. Of course, outsourcing can also have more sinister ends. Sometimes companies are accused of outsourcing because they don't want to pay for staff benefits, or because they want to avoid unionized workers. In other cases, quality may suffer. In the past several years, some companies that used manufacturers in China later had reason to regret their decision.

Yet the biggest economic effect of outsourcing may be to encourage specialization. Why should you do your taxes when an employee of a professional accounting firm can? Who better to take care of your lawn than a professional gardener? One consequence of this specialization, however, is that the world may need fewer accountants and gardeners. In the accounting industry, for instance, a smaller number of highly efficient accountants would do all the work that is currently spread across in-house staff of varying abilities in all the world's companies.

Does that mean outsourcing destroys jobs? If you're a lousy, expensive, or under-utilized accountant, then yes, your job might disappear. But this is just the economy's way of telling you that your labor might be used more efficiently in another occupation. Unfortunately, it takes time to retrain and start over in a new job, and that's where the political problems begin. In the United States, there is no broadly effective mechanism for helping people make this transition. Not surprisingly, then, the kind of outsourcing that draws the harshest criticism is when companies lay off staff in their home countries and transfer their functions to foreign workers. But even this is somewhat misleading. Transferring jobs overseas is a form of "off-shoring," but it isn't necessarily outsourcing; the new foreign workers may still be part of the same company's overseas operations.

When Mitt Romney worked at Bain Capital, outsourcing was undoubtedly an important part of his business, and this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Bain Capital is a private equity firm that buys and sells companies. After a private equity firm purchases a company, it usually tries to improve the management in order to raise the company's value. Here, outsourcing may be a useful tool, especially for trimming payrolls and cutting costs. Often, this means eliminating some jobs or sending them overseas. But Bain Capital typically sold its investments after five to seven years, so the charge that Romney was after a fast and easy buck at the expense of employees isn't necessarily a fair one.

Back then, Romney didn't have to worry about political consequences. These days, however, he's taken to defending his actions by painting Barack Obama as the bigger outsourcer. Obama, he claims, is guilty of channeling federal dollars into energy companies that manufacture products outside the United States, as well as subsidizing American companies' overseas factories. A new website funded by the Republican National Committee claims that "billions of dollars did go to create jobs that were outsourced or spent overseas."

Putting aside the grammatical problem in the above sentence, is there really any evidence that Obama's policies help to create jobs outside the United States? In fact, it would be shocking if Obama's policies weren't creating foreign jobs. America's biggest companies are multinationals, and anything that helps them will help their overseas operations as well.

Also, imagine what would have happened if Obama required that any federal aid or subsidies to American companies come with the caveat: "Don't hire any more workers in your foreign operations, or we'll take this money away." Many of Romney's own backers -- step forward, U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- would have cried foul. After all, is there anything more un-American than to constrain the operations of America's corporate heavyweights? Isn't the role of government to unleash their animal spirits to help them to create jobs anywhere?

Yes, Romney outsourced aplenty while he was at Bain Capital. And yes, some of the stimulus money and loan guarantees allotted during Obama's first term may have ended up creating jobs abroad. But even if you believe every one of the Romney campaign's claims, just $4 billion in cash -- less than 3 percent of the funds directed to businesses in the first stimulus package -- went towards "outsourcing."

And as several media outlets have already pointed out, many of the claims are bogus. It's not hard to see why. Take, for example, the $25 million stimulus award for Danish company Haldor Topsoe that the Romney website claims Obama funded -- it went to build a biorefinery in Illinois, not Denmark, and was expected to create 25 permanent jobs there. Or consider the $118 million that Ener1, which is based in New York with a factory in Indiana, received to make vehicle batteries. Was its subsequent purchase by a Russian investor really outsourcing, or was it just an inflow of foreign capital?

Yet even the claims that do qualify as outsourcing are disingenuous at best. In some cases, outsourcing actually may have been the right thing to do. Many components for electronics and energy products aren't manufactured in the United States anymore, if they ever were. So if the Gulf Wind Project did indeed use stimulus money to buy parts from South Korea, was it really passing up good options in the United States? Before you slam the outsourcing, you have to consider the alternatives -- as anyone with as much business experience as Romney ought to know.

Perhaps it's naïve to expect clarity on points of economic policy from presidential candidates. But by clouding the debate about outsourcing with misplaced definitions and misleading claims, they're doing the American public a disservice. Our economy will make the best use of outsourcing when we understand it clearly -- and these guys aren't helping.