Fortune is reporting on the election of Saudi Arabia to the Commission where it will serve a four-year term beginning in 2018 in spite of the country’s horrendous record on the treatment of women.
“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, director of the Geneva-based UN Watch. “It’s absurd – and morally reprehensible.”
“Saudi discrimination against women is gross and systematic in law and in practice. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death,” Neuer said. ”Saudi Arabia bans women from driving cars. Why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading oppressor of women to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women?”
According to the U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report on Saudi Arabia, the state of women’s rights in the kingdom is abysmal.
“Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their rights,” the report states.
“Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and society treated them as unequal members in the political and social spheres. The guardianship system requires that every woman have a close male relative as her ‘guardian’ with the legal authority to approve her travel outside of the country. A guardian also has authority to approve some types of business licenses and study at a university or college. . . A husband who verbally (rather than through a court process) divorces his wife or refuses to sign final divorce papers continues to be her legal guardian.
Gender discrimination excludes women from many aspects of public life. For example, the draconian guardianship laws, restrictions on women’s contact with male voters and the ban on driving makes it almost impossible for them to become involved in the public square.
Although there are some minor advances being made for women in Saudi Arabia, such as a 2013 mandate that women constitute no less than 20 percent of the membership of the Consultative Council, and allowing women to vote in municipal elections as of 2015, the election of such an oppressive regime to a position of authority on the Women’s Commission sparked a firestorm across the globe that has since gone viral.
Dozens of media outlets are reporting on the outrageous election while women around the world are weighing in with their disgust.
“I wish I could find the words to express how I feel right know. I’m ‘saudi’ and this feels like betrayal,” tweeted self-described Saudi woman pursuing a doctorate in international human rights law in Australia.
Other comments were equally distressed:
“This is betrayal to all women.”
“They are legitimizing rape, pedophile marriage, torture, and excruciating punishments for women.”
“It is a betrayal and reveals the truth about the UN. It is not about humanity at all. It is about power.”
Given the Commission’s broad mandate, Neuer told Fortune that it is unclear what “concrete impact” Saudi Arabia’s election to the Commission will have in the near future.
But the vote “definitely has the power of sending a message,” to Saudi women in particular, by “putting their oppressor in a position of power and influence when it comes to women’s rights.”
The only good news in this story is that there was a vote at all. These “elections” are usually rubber-stamped by the voting nations with no official tally taken.
However, the new US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, demanded a vote, a move that signaled disapproval of Saudi Arabia’s candidacy. Even though the vote was conducted secretly, and the countries who voted for Saudi Arabia are not known, the fact that the US demanded a vote was clearly a criticism of the kingdom.
Our thanks to Nikki Haley for refusing to participate in this shameful affront to womankind.
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