The 21st Century has truly seen unprecedented progress for women’s rights, including in the Middle East. Reforms in places like Saudi Arabia are finally trending the right direction, yet there is much to be done to achieve equality in the Middle East and beyond. One example of where the advancement of women’s rights has gone backwards is Iran, where whatever rights and protections for women existed prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979 have been completely stripped away. Today, Iran is one of the worst violators of the human rights of women in the world. Yet, in the United Nations, that apparently makes them qualified to lead on the issue of women’s rights.
Last week, the UN welcomed Iran as a member on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, where they were voted in by other states. The blind vote, which occurred several months ago, had to have included votes from several Western countries as well, a frankly appalling betrayal of the rights of Iranian women. The UN Commission is set up specifically to address the empowerment and advancement of women worldwide, so why is one of the worst abusers of women making decisions on this council?
In Iran, women are forced to wear hijab and have been imprisoned and tortured for removing it. They are forbidden from all manner of activities including attending football matches, banned from traveling without their husbands permission, banned from singing, dancing, smoking and more. Iran also permits child marriage as young as 13 years old. In the legal system in Iran, a woman is literally worth half that of a man. There is little to no recourse for sexual assault and rape with the victim herself often being blamed and horrific acts, such as honor-based violence, occur frequently.
On top of all this, Iran has a morality police, which routinely patrol the country and harass women who are dressed inappropriately in an often shocking and dehumanizing fashion. Similarly, women’s rights activists, such as lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, have been imprisoned and tortured for their activities.
Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Iranian women were permitted much more freedoms under the law despite it being early in the 20th century. However, in 1979, all these freedoms disappeared. While women remain the right to education and even comprises roughly half of the student governments at university, they are only 15.2% of the workforce today.
In response to Iran taking up their new role on the women’s commission, critics came out harshly against the outrageous move. Iranian women’s rights activists Masih Alinejad called the entire thing surreal and added in a tweet, “a regime that treats women as second class citizens, jails them for not wearing the compulsory hijab, bans them from singing, bars them from stadiums and doesn’t let them travel abroad without the permission of their husband’s, gets elected to the UN’s top women’s rights body.” Even the UN itself has stated that, “egregious gender-based discrimination persists in law, practice and societal attitudes, disempowering women and girls from participating and contributing in society.”
Sadly, however, Iran isn’t even the only country on the UN women’s commission with questionable human rights record or a record on discrimination against women. At the same time Iran was elected for its four year term, Pakistan and Lebanon were also selected, both countries with tremendous inequalities for women. Much like how the UN’s human rights council is filled with gross human rights violators, having a commission for women’s empowerment doesn’t do much good when the only thing it’s empowering are the abusers of women.
The writer is CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.