Home inContext Stand Up for Women’s Rights at the UN

Stand Up for Women’s Rights at the UN

Samara Greenberg

On November 10, Iran and Saudi Arabia – two of the world’s worst women’s rights violators – may become members of a new United Nations agency with the goal of accelerating “progress in meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide.” Named the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN Women for short, the new agency combines four previous UN women’s agencies and will be operational by January 2011.

Gender-equality activists hailed the new UN body, first announced in July, as a major victory for women worldwide. But news reports out last week citing that Iran is included on a list of 10 Asian countries to be represented, and Saudi Arabia has been nominated for a donor seat, have turned the cheering into outrage from U.S. and human rights groups. Of the 41-member executive board, 35 members are selected from regional lists and six represent donor nations. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are expected to be elected without contest.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are known for their appalling human rights records when it comes to women. While women in the former state are barred from numerous activities, including driving, stoning women to death is common practice in the latter. In fact, reports out yesterday claim that Tehran has given the go-ahead to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose sentence to death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery was suspended earlier in the year after an international outcry embarrassed the Iranian regime.

The Obama administration has yet to disclose whether or not it will try to prevent the duo, or even just Iran, from being elected to the agency. The U.S. and 12 other Western democracies failed to do so earlier in the year when Iran won a seat on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, even after more than 200 Iranian women’s rights activists raised concerns that Tehran would use the four year position “to curtail progress and the advancement of women.”

The free world has now been given a second chance to stand up against the UN’s absurdity as well as Iran and Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent human rights records. It’s an opportunity that should not be missed.