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12 November 2010

The United Nations disgraces itself -again

The United Nations has proven itself to be only half hostile to women and their welfare. By giving Saudi Arabia a seat on the executive board of a new superagency for women, but refusing a spot to Iran, the world body has dug itself deeper into a hole of cynical

The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women -commonly called UN Women -was created this year as a super-agency to promote women's rights and interests. Four UN bureaucracies were brought together to form a single more powerful agency. It is a promising sign that UN Women will be headed by Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile and a forceful advocate for women's rights.

The new body's governing council will have 41 members, six from donor countries and 35 named from regional blocs. Iran was one of 10 countries seeking the 10 Asian seats, but at the last minute East Timor bid for a seat, at Australia's urging, and Iran's bid was defeated. Canada did well in joining the U.S. and the European Union in lobbying against Iran.

We regret that there was no such last-minute rebuke to Saudi Arabia, a country where sexism knows no bounds. Women don't have rights. Male relatives take all significant decisions in a Saudi woman's life. Women are not even allowed to drive a car.

The culprit in this madness is the UN's bloc voting system, which rewards regional influence or donations rather than actual respect for rights. The Saudis got a seat as one of the donor countries putting money into certain UN projects; in effect they bought their spot. (Canada did not seek a seat.)

We wish UN Women luck as it tries to "forge partnerships with civil society" -part of the agency's mandate -in Saudi Arabia, and in some of the other unconvincing champions of women's rights given seats alongside the Saudis: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Nigeria ...

At least Iran was kept off. Only sustained international protest this fall deferred -not cancelled -the death by stoning of a woman accused of adultery there. Protest within Iran is less rewarding: Iran not only has a "dismal record on women's rights" but is also "aggressively going after women's-rights advocates who dare to speak out against their discriminatory laws," Human Rights Watch told Associated Press this week. Post-election protests last year were brutally suppressed. The UN General Assembly has "expressed concern," in the inconsequential UN way, over Iran's use of executions, stoning, torture, and amputations, and its discrimination against minorities.

Even without Iran, this executive board is a mockery. There is now a grave danger that UN Women will find itself having to refight old battles, instead of moving ahead.

The world's women can't afford this nonsense. By allowing regimes like Saudi Arabia's anywhere near the new agency for women, the UN is frittering away still more of its dwindling stock of moral authority. This is a tragedy for the UN, and a disaster for women.

05:21 Posted in Saudi Arabia | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook |

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