Home inContext Iran Rejected, Saudi Arabia Accepted, to New UN Women’s Rights Body

Iran Rejected, Saudi Arabia Accepted, to New UN Women’s Rights Body

Samara Greenberg

The United Nations rejected Iran’s bid for a seat on the board of the new UN Women agency after the international body faced fierce opposition from the United States and human rights groups over Tehran’s treatment of women. After receiving only 19 votes yesterday, Iran lost the seat to East Timor’s 36 votes, which proposed itself late in the game after encouragement by the U.S. to counter Iran who had initially been guaranteed a seat for lack of competition.

Meanwhile, the international body accepted the bid of Saudi Arabia, where women are barred from using the same facilities as men; Libya, where women suspected of violating moral codes are indefinitely locked-up in “social rehabilitation” facilities; and Congo, where rape is commonly used as a weapon of war.

Iranian women protesting for equal rights with men.

Eshagh al-Habib, Iran’s representative to the UN, accused the United States – who lobbied hard against Iran but said nothing of Saudi Arabia or other countries – of playing “childish” political games, and rejected the argument that his country does not belong on a women’s rights board. “Iran is progressing very fast in the field of human rights, women’s rights,” he said.

Of course, most would disagree with such an assessment, especially Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who called Iran’s bid a “joke” as the situation for women there is “deteriorating daily.” According to Ebadi, laws in Iran make it more difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce or a passport than a man, and the court testimony of two women equals that of one man.

While Iran’s loss this time around is a gain for the new UN women’s agency, the international body created to promote women’s rights is not off to a great start. With countries such as Libya and China on board, one is left wondering how the UN agency will effectively promote women’s rights worldwide.