Current Affairs

Saudi Arabia Elected on UN Panel for Women’s Status

Joel B. Pollak

The United Nations Economic and Social Council voted late last week to place Saudi Arabia on the Commission on the Status of Women for a four-year term beginning in 2018, despite that country’s appalling record on the treatment of women.

The commission is “exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” reported UN Watch.

Saudi Arabia, a country labeled “the world’s most misogynistic regime” will serve on the commission from 2018-2022.

Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, expressed his outrage in a statement : “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief. It’s absurd.”

Neuer called the election “a black day for women’s rights and for all human rights.”

“Today the UN sent a message that women’s rights can be sold out for petro-dollars and politics,” Neuer added, “and it let down millions of female victims worldwide who look to the world body for protection.”

 “Every Saudi woman,” said Neuer, “must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death. Saudi Arabia also bans women from driving cars.”

According to UN Watch, the United States forced a formal vote, against China’s wishes, instead of allowing the normal practice of allowing regional groupings to select the nations on the commission by themselves, in secret.

However, the vote was still held behind closed doors, meaning it is not yet clear precisely which countries voted to honor one of the world’s foremost abusers of women’s rights. Neuer calculates, based on the voting math, that at least five European Union member states would have had to vote for Saudi Arabia for it to win a seat on the commission.

UN Watch quoted a tweet from a Saudi woman studying for a doctorate in international human rights in Australia who wrote succinctly, “I wish I could find the words to express how I feel right now. I’m ‘Saudi’ and this feels like betrayal.”

The U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report on Saudi Arabia (largely prepared by the outgoing Obama administration) notes that despite being allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015, the state of women’s rights in the kingdom remains generally abysmal: Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their rights. 

The Saudi law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and since there is no codified personal-status law, judges made decisions regarding family matters based on their interpretations of Islamic law. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and society treated them as unequal members in the political and social spheres. The guardianship system requires that every woman have a close male relative as her “guardian” with the legal authority to approve her travel outside of the country.

A guardian also has authority to approve some types of business licenses and study at a university or college. Women can make their own determinations concerning hospital care. Women can work without their guardian’s permission, but most employers required women to have such permission. A husband who verbally (rather than through a court process) divorces his wife or refuses to sign final divorce papers continues to be her legal guardian. A woman’s guardian is typically her father, or husband if she is married, but could even be her underage son.

[In Saudi Arabia, normally, a woman complaining about rape is often charged as committing adultery and the punishment for the ‘crime’ is execution by stoning.]


Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, it is available from Regnery.