In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive, cannot use many facilities utilized by men and must receive a man’s written permission to open a bank account, travel or receive medical care. Apparently, the United Nation sees this record on women’s rights as sufficient to give Saudi Arabia a spot on a new women’s rights board.

This is a disgrace. Allowing Saudi Arabia to have a seat on a board that discusses and determines women’s rights issues is an insult to every woman on earth, as well as an insult to every country that respects the rights of women.

Unfortunately, this continues the UN’s sad history of allowing the opponents of human rights to hold power over the very same rights they deny to their own people. I would love to be able to say that Saudi Arabia is the only country on the board that doesn’t deserve to be there, but that would be ignoring the fact that both Libya, where women are imprisoned for “social rehabilitation,” and the Congo, where rape is practiced with sickening impunity as a tool of warfare, were both offered spots on the board.

The idea of having a UN board to discuss and promote women’s rights makes sense, and it is a noble goal. Sadly, the inclusion of these countries with backwards and barbaric records when it comes to women has discredited the UN women’s board even before it holds its first meeting.
Should a country where women do not have the right to dress as they please be allowed to pass judgement on women’s rights in another country? The answer to that is obvious to all of us, yet clearly not so obvious to the UN. Why would one let the fox guard the hen house?

According to an article appearing on, a man in Saudi Arabia is able to marry up to four wives. When the reporter asked why this was allowed, a Saudi delegate responded that “[ . . . ] it was to ensure a man’s sexual appetite was satisfied legally if one wife could not fulfill it.” Charming. Thank goodness that Saudi Arabia will be able to lecture the countries of the world on how to treat women; what would we do without their brilliant guidance?

This sends a disturbing message to those who support the UN and to all of us who support women’s rights. The UN is saying that they will not stand against those who treat half of their own people like second-class citizens. They are saying that they lack a value system based in reality, and they are showing that they lack a moral compass.

The sad thing about this, aside from the legitimacy granted to the oppression of women, is the fact that the United Nations was once an organization with lots of potential. When formed from the wreckage of the Second World War, the UN offered the world a chance to achieve a unity of purpose and gave hope to those still suffering that one day they too would be free. Today, this potential is lost. The UN has become a weak and for the most part ineffectual organization. Though there are various programs that do some good things, and though there are many UN workers who are compassionate people determined to help those in need, the overall organization itself has become an impediment to the goals it claims to be fighting for.

Where do we go from here? Though opinions will vary, it seems that the UN is close to the breaking point when it comes to its public credibility. For many, including myself, the UN lost all credibility long ago, and it will be difficult for the UN to justify the dues it receives from member countries when that money is put towards foolish mistakes such as a women’s rights board that features countries such as Saudi Arabia. If the UN does not get their act together soon, it might be better off for the democracies of the world to form their own organization, one based on human rights and a true set of values.

Spencer Fernando is the International Comment Coordinator for the Manitoban.

6 Comments on "Seriously?"

  1. When the UN was started, they very specifically wanted to include the “losers” of the war. There’s a very logical reason for it: you can’t have world peace and global cooperation if you outright exclude people.
    If you exclude countries that don’t have great women’s rights records from the discussion, how could you ever expect them to go along with the results? They would not cooperate unless they felt like their voice was heard during the discussions.
    It’s a bit redundant if the only countries who follow the UN on women’s rights are the ones who were already respecting them to begin with.
    As well, having one extreme country on the board does not mean that the board itself is going to become extreme.
    As such, to have any hope of those countries with a terrible record reforming and respecting the UN’s decisions, they must feel like their view was heard during the discussions.
    That is a concept that the UN has always embodied, so when you talk about lost legitimacy and lost potential, I have to file that under “haters gonna hate.”

  2. Also just to clarify in my last comment. “Having their view heard” does not mean “having their view pandered to”

  3. While Cayla’s comments are idealistic and pretty sounding, unfortunately in practice the benefits she asserts are not realized. Having countries with a) horrendous women’s rights records and b) no women’s rights whatsoever, on the UN women’s rights board, is a disgrace and defeats the entire purpose of the board.

    Spencer you are right in that the UN was established to achieve beautiful goals. As a feminist and volunteer at two human rights based organizations, I absolutely love the ideals put forth at the creation of the UN: to forward a univeralist human rights approach globally; to provide a forum for international dialogue; and to prevent genocides.

    Has the UN been effective in achieving any of these goals? No.

    The UN has not improved human rights globally. In fact, through offensive public measures such as having countries where women are publicly executed by the government for indecency after being raped sit on the women’s rights board, the UN has legitimized human rights abuses against women.

    The UN has not increased levels of international dialogue, as countries still primarily only discuss trade with one another, or diplomacy through their own independent measures. Not to mention the fact that the UN grants legitimacy to countries that don’t even recognize other countries’ existence!

    The UN has not stopped genocide, which was of course the original root goal of the organization. Since the creation of the UN, we have seen several genocides take place IN MEMBER COUNTRIES of the UN.

    I consider myself a women’s rights advocate, and for me, it’s getting to the point where I’m offended by the fact that we’re even part of an organization that legitimizes such atrocities. It represents a regression in women’s rights and human rights in our world, and by association, in Canada.

  4. OMG. Spencer, so true. The UN is such a joke now.

    Also, the UN general assembly just voted to take “sexual orientation” off the list of reasons that protect people from being executed without cause. Meaning it’s now OK with the UN that governments kill people without cause, simply for being gay.

    Way to go UN – advancing women’s rights and gay rights…NOT.

  5. Ally Beauchesne | November 25, 2010 at 6:03 pm |

    As a women, this is one of the best articles on the subject that I have ever read. Thank you for bringing such an insightful look into this issue. Normally I like to criticize articles, but this is so brilliant, I can’t find anything to complain about. Bravo!

  6. Aman Thethy | December 3, 2010 at 3:18 am |

    @Ally: How about the fact that Islamic and Western culture are very different, and that our perception of Islamic culture and Islamic Women’s Rights is directly influenced by what our Western media wants us to believe.

    As the female journalist Maha Akeel said, “Look, we are not asking for… women’s rights according to Western values or lifestyles….We want things according to what Islam says. Look at our history, our role models.”

    Nonetheless, I am not agreeing with Saudi’s stance on Women’s Rights, but I do not feel that excluding them from a council established to discuss and better those rights is the right thing to do. I feel that the UN did the right thing here, but only because I have hope that Saudi will learn from more progressive Islamic nations present on the board.

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