Over the weekend, the United Nations voted to put Saudi Arabia on its Women’s Rights Commission. No, this isn’t fake news or an Onion headline. Our foremost international body has intentionally put Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for its women’s rights problems, on a commission dedicated to promoting women’s rights. The vote highlights once again the farce that is the UN and how far it has fallen from its original conception and purpose.
Saudi Arabia will join the illustrious ranks of the commission, with such exemplars of women’s rights as Iran, which has been on the commission since 2010. All countries have their failings and none are without fault, but this is beyond the pale. The hypocrisy is just staggering. The executive director of the human rights group UN Watch said it would be like “making an arsonist into the town fire chief.”
How Women in Saudi Arabia Must Live
Saudi Arabia is infamous for its restrictions on half of its population. The country subscribes to the practice of “wali,” under which a woman must seek approval from a male guardian in order to travel outside the country, work, marry, divorce, open a bank account, or go to school. This means a 40-year-old woman with no husband could have her financial and travel decisions made by her 12-year-old son.
The system of wali, which is implemented in many Muslim countries, was in the news recently when a Saudi woman was sent back to Saudi Arabia after attempting to travel to Australia via the Philippines without her guardian’s permission. She claims she was seeking asylum there and reportedly began crying when her male relatives arrived at the Manila airport to retrieve her.
All of public life in Saudi Arabia is designed to segregate women from men, from clothing prescriptions to rules about driving. Katherine Zoepf explains the phenomena in her book, “Excellent Daughters”:
Saudi Arabia devotes enormous resources to maintaining a strict separation between the sexes. This separation is the most noticeable feature of Saudi life, so extreme that it is almost impossible to overstate. Saudi women may not drive, and they must wear black abayas and head coverings in public at all times. They are spirited around in cars with tinted windows, attend girls-only schools and university departments, and eat in special “family” sections of cafés and restaurants, which are carefully partitioned off from the sections used by male diners. There are bank branches, travel agencies, and sections of government office that serve only women. Even fast-food chain restaurants, like McDonald’s and KFC, have separate counter lines for men and women.
Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 144 countries on the 2016 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap rankings. Iran was rated number 139.
Why the United Nations Is Spineless
Despite the appalling women’s rights abuses that flourish as a matter of state policy in Saudi Arabia, the UN allows secret ballots for voting countries onto its various commissions, regardless of each country’s specific record in that area. In this case, the UN wouldn’t want to object because it would violate one of the organization’s central tenets: no country, system of belief, or cultural practice is superior or inferior to another. It’s textbook progressive multiculturalism. The UN simply ignores Saudi Arabia’s record and allows that the treatment of women in Saudi society is just part of the culture. Different but equal.
In the UN’s deranged reasoning, the Saudis have just as much of a right to sit on a commission for women’s rights as any other country does. But this is pure fiction, and makes the UN look ridiculous. In its slavish devotion to multiculturalism, the UN has created a fantasy utopia that is unmoored from the world in which the women they claim to want to help actually live.
What an insult Saudi Arabia’s appointment to the Women’s Rights Commission is to women around the world who so badly need someone in a position of power to speak and fight for them. What an inexcusable mockery of their plight. How could anyone believe that the UN takes women’s rights seriously when it puts such a flagrant violator onto a commission meant to protect that very thing?
This Is a Pattern of Behavior
This vote isn’t the organization’s first exercise in mind-boggling hypocrisy. For years, the UN has been voting countries with deplorable human rights records onto its Human Rights Council. Libya was voted onto the council in 2010, when the dictator Muammar Gaddafi was still in power. Cuba, of all places, was voted onto the commission in 2009, 2013, and 2016. Needless to say, Libya and Cuba are hardly the standards for human rights that the council, at least in theory, is seeking to promote.
So what to make of it all? It seems clear that the UN is much more interested in its fantasy of absolute parity between countries, regardless of their records on human rights, than it is in fulfilling its sworn duty as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it adopted in 1948 (interestingly, Saudi Arabia abstained from the ratification vote in 1948, claiming the declaration violated sharia law).
What a long way the UN has come, from being the world’s best hope of never repeating the horrors of World War II to a farcical organization that routinely makes a mockery out of human rights.