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Anger over Saudi appointment to UN Women's Rights commission

Critics call the decision 'shocking' and 'absurd' 

Narjas Zatat
Tuesday 25 April 2017 17:56 BST
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Picture: Bahraini women take part in a protest in the village of Jidhafs, west of Manama, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016
Picture: Bahraini women take part in a protest in the village of Jidhafs, west of Manama, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016 (MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/GETTY)

Saudi Arabia has been voted onto the UN women’s rights commission in a secret ballot - a move branded "shocking" and "absurd" by critics.

At least five European Union states reportedly cast their ballots for the Middle Eastern kingdom, where women still do not have the right the right to drive and were only allowed to stand as candidates and vote in municipal elections first the first time, two years ago.

It will now serve a four year term on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which claims to be dedicated to the “promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”.

Rothna Begum, a women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Independent it was "shocking".

"How can Saudi Arabia seek to promote women’s rights globally, when at home they continue to severely discriminate against women through the male guardianship system?" she said.

The guardianship system means that women in Saudi Arabia remain permanent legal minors. Ms Begum said that as a result they are required to seek permission from a male guardian "to travel abroad, marry, or be released from prison, and may be required to provide guardian consent to work or get health care".

She also pointed out that women cannot drive or apply for a driving licence in the conservative country. Earlier this month, the country got into hot water after images of the first girls’ council meeting emerged – with 13 men in attendance, but no women.

Hillel Neuer, director of UN Watch, UN Watch a non-governmental organisation (NGO) whose stated mission is "to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter", also called appointment "absurd", while award-winning author and columnist Mona Eltahaway was equally appalled, and referred to the appointment as a “disgrace”.

The Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based NGO, called the country a “dictatorship”.

Canadian Conservative MP Michelle Rempell called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to condemn the appointment.

"Where is the credibility of the United Nations as a whole if we’re putting countries like Saudi Arabia on the women’s rights commission?" she said.

Saudi Arabia is also a member of the Human Rights Council, which it will serve on until 2019.

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