Iran loses, Saudi Arabia wins seat on UN Women board

Saudi Arabia gains seat on the board despite one of "the most repressive" records on women's rights; Iran gets lowest number of votes.

November 12, 2010 04:10
2 minute read.
Saudi Women smoke water pipes.

saudi women_311. (photo credit: (Illustrative photo: MCT))

As expected, Iran failed to win a seat Wednesday on the board of the new UN agency to promote equality for women, after the US and human rights groups expressed strong opposition to Teheran’s treatment of women.

In the election by the 54-nation UN Economic and Social Council, Iran got the lowest number of votes of the 11 Asian nations vying for 10 seats on the UN Women’s board. Iran received just 19 votes compared to 36 for East Timor, which ended 24 years of Indonesian occupation in 1999 and declared independence in 2002.

NGO Monitor slams UN for Iran election to women’s agency

US Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the result, saying, “We’ve made no secret that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board... and we think it was a very good outcome today.”

Philippe Bolopion, UN advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, expressed relief that Iran was denied a seat “not only because of their dismal record on women’s rights, but also because they have actively undermined the very principles that UN Women was created to promote, including by cracking down on women’s rights advocates.”

Some rights groups were also upset that Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive and are barred from many facilities used by men; Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi’s regime indefinitely locks up women suspected of violating moral codes in “social rehabilitation” facilities, and Congo, where rape is widely used as a weapon of war, won uncontested seats on the board.

“It’s morally perverse to reward a country that lashes rape victims, and that systematically subjugates women in every walk of life, with the power to negatively influence the global protection of women’s rights,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based UN Watch.

The General Assembly resolution adopted in July that merged four UN bodies dealing with women’s issues into a single agency with greater clout to represent half the world’s population calls for a 41-member executive board, with 35 members chosen by regional groups and six representing donor nations.

The resolution earmarks four seats from the top 10 donor nations, and the United States, Britain, Spain and Norway won those seats. It allocated two seats to contributors from developing countries, and those winners were Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

“I am not going to deny that there were several countries that are going to join the board of UN Women that have less than stellar records on women’s rights, and indeed [on] human rights,” Rice said, but the key issue for the US was Iran’s defeat.

Bolopion said Human Rights Watch also has “serious concerns” with some other board members, especially Saudi Arabia, which “was able to buy their way to the board,” despite having one of “the most repressive” records on women’s rights in the world. He expressed hope that putting the spotlight on the Saudis would pressure the government to end its system requiring a male relative to sign off on any decision involving a woman, including travel, medical care and opening a bank account.

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