Noted in today”™s proceedings is the number of votes the Islamic Republic of Iran received, which stood at 19. To qualify for a board seat, a country must receive 28 votes at least. I do not know whether the balloting was done in secret but kudos to all the countries who voted against the system of government in Iran and shame on all those who voted for that system. I understand the US stood against Iran and I applaud this decision. Iran, famous for stoning women for adultery and lesser crimes, will have no say in this new agency. It goes to show you that the UN and other countries have been affected by the negative publicity they received the last time the UN voted for Iran on a Women”™s Rights Commission.
For those who know little about Saudi Arabia, a country that will decide presumably the fate and rights of women across the planet, it is worth reciting the state of affairs of their women in their own country.
Women in Saudi Arabia have no rights except the ones decided by men whose will is to live as Prophet Mohammad lived in the 7th century. They cannot drive. They cannot go out of their homes or travel without a male guardian (Husband, brother, son). They cannot but wear a veil covering every ounce of flesh except the eyes. They can only work as nurses, teachers, bank tellers catering to other women. They are stoned to death for adultery. They earn half what the male earns and can only claim half what the male claims in a will, which is duly enforced by Islam. Only recently, they were allowed to open bank accounts in specialized branches for women.
A tragic story of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia happened when a school for girls in Mecca caught fire in 2002. The elementary girls who tried to escape the building were forced back by the religious police because they were not veiled. As a result, 14 young girls burned alive. The Saudi government sacked the chief of the religious police in Mecca and tried to cover-up the story by claiming that most of the girls died when a stair collapsed inside the building. What”™s the message here to all little girls and women in Saudi Arabia? It is better for you to die than to appear without a veil in public.
I do not believe that Saudi Arabia will appoint a fanatic religious policeman or Mutawa”™ah as they are called, to this new post at the UN. But, even if a Saudi woman of high caliber and wisdom is appointed, she will be very much concerned about her voting since she is answerable, after all, to Saudi men back home, some of whom would send the girls back into a burning school for indecent exposure of their faces. In other words, it is men who still decide the fate of women in an authoritarian system of government even if those women are empowered by their own skills and intellect.
Furthermore, where are the western organizations defending women”™s rights to hold the UN, and the countries sitting on the new UN Agency, accountable for any action that does not advance the cause of women? Gender rights must become a universal and border-less cause if women are to succeed in defending their rights. African-Americans in the US helped defeat the Apartheid system in South Africa, which empowered them further at home. Organizations like NOW, who has done so much good for women in the US must support causes of women across the globe. To have power is one thing, to use it for full advantage requires an immense talent.
Dare I say that women have some miles to walk before they realize how powerful they are and how much global influence they can muster if their agenda would address the voices of all women across the world rather than locally? It”™s not hard, just emulate the model of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and be ready to stand at a podium for every injustice carried out against any woman, such as the ones we see in Saudi Arabia and Iran.