Watchdog slams UN for electing Saudi Arabia to committee on gender equality
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Watchdog slams UN for electing Saudi Arabia to committee on gender equality

Kingdom which severely discriminates against women to serve four-year term on Commission on the Status of Women

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, left, and Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, arrive to hold a joint press conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 12, 2017. (AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, left, and Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, arrive to hold a joint press conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 12, 2017. (AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE)

A watchdog group on Sunday slammed the appointment of Saudi Arabia to a United Nations committee on gender equality, saying it was absurd given the kingdom’s overt discrimination against women.

The UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on Wednesday elected 13 members, including Saudi Arabia, to four-year terms on the Commission on the Status of Women — a committee “exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

In 2016, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 144 on the Global Gender Gap Index.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive, and women may not travel, conduct business, or make certain medical decisions without the consent of a male guardian.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the human rights group UN Watch, condemned the decision of the UN.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (Michal Fattal/Flash 90)
Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (Michal Fattal/Flash 90)

“Saudi discrimination against women is gross and systematic in law and in practice,” said Neuer. “Why did the UN choose the world’s leading promoter of gender inequality to sit on its gender equality commission,” he said in a statement.

“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” he later tweeted.

In January, a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Philip Alston, criticized the kingdom for its treatment of women.

“The driving ban should be lifted, and women should no longer need authorization from male guardians to work or travel,” Alston said.

In a 2015 report, the US State Department found the kingdom showed severe discrimination against women.

As there were only 13 candidates for the 13 seats on the council, Saudi Arabia’s election was a foregone conclusion. However, the US insisted on a secret ballot to approve the candidates, rather than automatic unanimous acclimation.

Saudi Arabia received the fewest number of votes, only 47 out of the 54 members voting.

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