Iran blocked, but Saudi Arabia accepted for U.N. Women board

This morning the U.N.’s new umbrella agency for women’s rights issues elected its board members. The election had attracted controversy because two of the candidate countries were among the world’s most notorious abusers of women’s rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  This morning, with strong lobbying from the United States, Iran’s election to the board was ...

HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images
HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images
HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

This morning the U.N.'s new umbrella agency for women's rights issues elected its board members. The election had attracted controversy because two of the candidate countries were among the world's most notorious abusers of women's rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

This morning, with strong lobbying from the United States, Iran's election to the board was blocked. Human rights groups had strongly opposed Iran's election, pointing in particular  to the recent death sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for the crime of adultery.

The 54 countries who sit on the UN’s Economic and Social Council did, however, accept the membership bid by Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden from driving and barred from many public places.

This morning the U.N.’s new umbrella agency for women’s rights issues elected its board members. The election had attracted controversy because two of the candidate countries were among the world’s most notorious abusers of women’s rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

This morning, with strong lobbying from the United States, Iran’s election to the board was blocked. Human rights groups had strongly opposed Iran’s election, pointing in particular  to the recent death sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for the crime of adultery.

The 54 countries who sit on the UN’s Economic and Social Council did, however, accept the membership bid by Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden from driving and barred from many public places.

In fact, according to the U.N. Development Program’s own Gender Empowerment Measure, Saudi Arabia is actually a worse country for gender equality than Iran. Neither does particularly well, but of the the 93 countries ranked, only Yemen scores lower than Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s candidacy for the 41-member executive board had been part of a slate elected by the Asian region while Saudi Arabia was selected for one of the spots reserved for "donor" nations. Not a particularly auspicious start for an important new body.  

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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