So one of the most repressive regimes in the world has somehow managed to get a spot in... wait for it... the UN committee on women's rights. Just let this sink in for a few seconds. Saudi Arabia will be supervising women's rights in the world. Oh, and by the way a few years ago they also got a spot in the human rights committee.
I must admit, I would find enormous difficulties to come up with the name of another country that has a WORSE human rights and women's rights record than Saudi Arabia. There might be a couple, but Saudi Arabia is right there, in the top 5. Women don't even have the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Or communicate with males who are not their immediate relatives. Or appear in public places without a male relative. They need a male guardian if they are to travel abroad, or start a job, or get educated. There have been cases where Saudi women were sentenced to lashes for checking their husband's mobile without his permission. In Saudi court, the testimony of a man weighs as much as that of two women, if not more. Recently, the Saudi authorities tried to show more openness, so they organised a conference on women's issues. Except, they forgot to invite any women.
Despite all this, after an anonymous vote, Saudi Arabia was elected one of the 45 members of the committee, with a 4 year term ending in 2022. Other members include countries with a stellar women's rights record like DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Iraq, Turkmenistan, et. The decision was made last week uring an economic and social UN summit.
Of course, the news has caused an uproar, and a wave of indignation. The UN Watch organisation which monitors UN's activities has categorically condemned Saudi Arabia's involvement in a committee that is supposed to promote women's rights, document the reality of women's life around the world, and craft global standards for the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment.
The UN Watch chairman Hillel Neuer said that choosing Saudi Arabia to defend women's rights is akin to hiring an arsonist for chief of the city fire department. It's utterly absurd. Discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia is so blatant, so brutal and systematic, both in law and in practice, that women are demoted to the status of cattle, where males have the privilege of controlling their life entirely and using them as objects. Which is why this UN act practically legitimises and encourages gender inequality around the world in unprecedented ways.
7 out of the 54 members of the economic and social council had voted against Saudi Arabia's membership in the women's rights committee. Although Saudi Arabia did get fewer votes than any of the other countries that were being voted upon, that didn't matter much, since the number of nominees exactly matched the number of vacant slots anyway.
There are indications that at least 5 out of the EU countries within the council had voted in favour of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had applied for this position a year ago, their statement being that the way women are treated in their country was "in accordance with Sharia law, which guarantees a fair level of gender equality".
With this act, the UN now gives the repressive regime a voice, and a tool to influence resolutions that affect the lives of billions of women around the world. Including on issues like the fight against gender discrimination, and laws against home violence. This is a shameful time for the UN.