By Amy Lieberman
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the countries on the list for today's elections to the 41-member executive board of the U.N.'s new super agency for women. Some critics say countries that allow death by stoning should be disqualified.
UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)-- Today's election of 41 U.N. member states to the executive board of the emerging "super agency" for women includes Iran and Saudi Arabia.
That outrages Iranian Shirin Ebadi, a 2003 Nobel laureate and leading women's rights and pro-democracy activist, who called it a "mocking situation" for U.N. Women in commencement of its work.
"How can a country that has not ratified CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women . . . be a member of that board and speak about women's rights?" she said through a Persian translator at a U.N. press conference Tuesday. "I think that this board--with the members that we can see--will not get anywhere."
Ebadi was at the United Nations to lobby for a General Assembly resolution condemning the country's human rights record.
Marianne Mollman, advocacy director for the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch, agrees.
"They should not allow their position on U.N. Women to whitewash their home policies and say 'we are so good with women's rights,' because they are not," she said in an interview on Monday.
Given the two countries' gender restrictions, Mollman called their possible inclusion a provocation to the world's women.
Women in Saudi Arabia must receive permission from a male guardian to travel, work, study and marry. They make up less than 10 percent of the work force and are forbidden to drive.
Iran has no laws to protect women from domestic violence and imposes what is widely seen as cruel and unusual punishment for nonviolent crimes. Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani's death sentence by stoning for an adultery conviction provides the current, high-profile example. In September Iran suspended her stoning sentence but is still expected to order her hanged.
Bani Dugal, a member of Gender Equality Architecture Reform, a civil-society coalition that advocated for the creation of U.N. Women, shares Mollman's concern. "It really sends the wrong message for a country that has stoning on its books to potentially automatically get a place on this board."
At the same time, Dugal said board membership could encourage Saudi Arabia and Iran to repeal restrictive and discriminatory laws against women.
Today's vote will be made by the U.N.'s 51-member Economic and Social Council.
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