A human rights group on Sunday criticised the United Nations for appointing conservative kingdom Saudi Arabia to its committee on women’s rights. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist the town fire chief,” UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer said. “It’s absurd.”
Saudi Arabia was elected to UN’s Commission on the Status of Women – a body that works to promote gender equality – in a secret vote last week during its Economic and Social Council meet. The kingdom was elected to the committee for the 2018-2022 term.
Besides Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Turkmenistan, Haiti, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Comoros were also elected to the council. As there were only 13 candidates for the 13 seats open, Saudi Arabia’s inclusion was inevitable. However, the West Asian country received the fewest number of votes – only 47 out of 54 voting in its favour.
Women in Saudi Arabia have faced restrictions in their daily lives for years. Even today, they are not allowed to drive or make major life choices without male consent, including travelling, studying, working and making certain medical decisions. In 2015, for the first time in the history of the country, Saudi Arabian women had voted and contested in the elections. The country was ranked 141st among the 144 nations surveyed in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2016.
Despite the criticism the UN commission has drawn for Saudi Arabia’s selection, former New Zealand prime minister and UN Development Programme administrator Helen Clark welcomed the decision. “It’s important to support those in the country who are working for change for women. Things are changing, but slowly,” she tweeted.