Iran has finally won a top seat on the governing board of the UN Agency For Women despite a woeful record of women’s rights abuses in the country, thanks to a failure by the US and the EU to oppose the appointment. It has been suggested that their reticence to back an alternative candidate was due to deference to nuclear talks.
Iran last made a bid for the seat in 2010, but was easily defeated in its attempt by the West backing an alternative candidate in a secret ballot. Although the new decision, made last week at a three day meeting of the UN’s Economic and Social Council also went to a secret ballot, Iran gained a two-thirds majority in the vote to secure a place on the board.
It also won places on the executive board of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and Commission on Narcotic Drugs, all of which it will take up next January 1st.
Also elected to the board were the United Arab Emirates and Samoa, who each got 53 votes of a possible 54; Turkmenistan – 52 votes; and Pakistan with 49 votes. Iran was granted 36 votes.
Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN has condemned the decision, saying in a statement “The low vote total that Iran received today testifies to the deep concerns U.N. member states have about Iran assuming a position on the board of U.N. Women.
“In Iran, women are legally barred from holding some government positions, there are no laws against domestic violence, and adultery is punishable by stoning, making it wholly inappropriate that Iran assume a leadership role on women’s rights and welfare at the U.N.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch was more damning in his criticism. “Electing the Iranian regime to the UN Women’s Rights Board is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief,” he said. “The UN’s decision is an insult to all Iranian women and to all women’s rights advocates around the world. By elevating Iran to a global leadership post on women’s equality, the UN is legitimizing a regime that systematically treats women as second-class citizens.”
UN Watch has sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, calling on them to at least condemn the appointment, which they said was a “moral outrage” and a “hypocritical decision”.
Only last month, the Secretary General released a report into Iran’s human rights record which found that women were granted restricted access to the workplace and earned significantly less than men; that husbands were legally granted the right to restrict their wives’ activities; that child marriage is legal, with girls as young as nine being married off to older men; and that rape and violence perpetrated against wives is legal.
“As you rightly indicated in your 2015 report on the situation of human rights in Iran (A/HRC/28/26), Iran is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world on women’s rights, ranking no. 137 out of 142 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index for 2014 of the World Economic Forum,” UN Watch has told the Secretary General.
“Your report documents Iran’s abysmal record on child marriages, forced headcovering enforced by morality police, acid attacks, domestic violence, spousal rape, state-enforced control of women by their husbands, and gross inequality in the workplace, education and public sphere.
“And what sets Iran apart from other countries is its persecution, arrests and imprisonment of women’s rights activists for exercising their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and opinion.”
UN Watch urged Ban Ki-Moon to “speak out forcefully” against Iran’s appointment, arguing that the bid is a cynical attempt by that country to undermine a global move towards equality for women.
“What makes Iran such an offensive choice is not only its abysmal record on women’s rights but also the fact that it’s aggressively going after women’s rights defenders who courageously speak out against misogynistic laws in the country,” said Neuer.
“Time and again, Iran tramples the founding objectives of UN Women, and should never have been elected to its board.”