Saudi Arabia on UN Women Board


It took years to make the United Nations’ newest agency, UN Women, a reality, and then just one day to effectively kill it.

Death was effected by allowing onto its board a kingdom where women are not just infamously prohibited from driving but are also virtual minors who need a male guardian’s permission to travel and to have surgery — and must be covered from head to toe in public.

As one of two countries guaranteed seats as emerging donor nations, Saudi Arabia essentially bought its way onto the board of UN Women, which is dedicated to gender equality around the world.

See also Irshad Manji’s take on it.

Thanks, DS.

70 thoughts on “Saudi Arabia on UN Women Board

  1. That’s the problem of an organisation that is based solely on the sovereignty and thus equality of states, regardless of their political, legal, economic systems. Unless the UN canges this, it will become less and less relevant.

  2. The U.N. Women statement (on “Facts & Figures”) linked below claims that, “[t]he work of UN Women will be framed by… the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW]…”

    Update: the U.N. Women website now indicates that CEDAW is one of four or so documents guiding their work:

    Apparently, Saudi Arabia ratified CEDAW with three or so reservations. Here is one of them:
    1) “The Kingdom does not consider itself bound by paragraphe 2 of article 9 of the Convention…”

    – *** Please note that paragraph 2 of article 9 states, “Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.”

    What do readers make of this?

    In case anyone is interested, here is a link to the 2009 Freedom House Ratings for Saudi Arabia – you can easily find ratings (or country reports) for different years and regions by changing the two drop down menus.

  3. Apparently, the recently released 2010 Human Development Report (HDR) added three new indices to the Human Development Index (HDI). They are The Multidimensional Poverty Index, The Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, and the Gender Inequality Index.

    The Gender Inequality Index ranks countries by taking account of five indicators: 1) maternal mortality ratio, 2) adolescent fertility rate, 3) the share of parliamentary seats held by each sex, 4) secondary and higher education attainment levels, and 5) by women’s participation in the work force.

    This index is (supposed to be) “a composite measure reflecting inequality in achievements between women and men in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market.”

    Saudi Arabia, which ranks 55 in the “high human development” category, ranks 128 in the Gender Inequality Index.

    Here is the new Gender Inequality Index:

    Click to access HDR_2010_EN_Table4_reprint.pdf

    Here is the Human Development Report webpage on it:

    Many details here for different interpretations in different ways…

  4. Senior Saudi cleric questions women driving ban:
    He says women should be allowed more social participation in the Islamic state
    Saudi religious cop says ‘no need’ for women to cover up
    “A Saudi religious police commander criticised the kingdom’s ban on gender mixing on Tuesday and said women did not have to veil their faces to applause from his female audience.”

  5. Woman empowerment stressed

    Could this be for real? Or should the requisite amount of reading this suspiously and criitically suspend our beliefs?

    ““Women still need to improve their presence in banking and information technology. Procedures need to be set up to achieve equal opportunities in education and training,” said Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja, adding that women are increasingly appearing on TV and radio.

    “There is a need for equal job opportunities in the private sector for both genders. We have to be realistic as it is very difficult to completely change stereotypes within a short period, especially when it involves women working in new fields,” he added.”

    “He added that within eight weeks, a new mechanism will be set up to regulate women’s employment, protect them from exploitation and punish violators. He also promised to deal with issues faced by non-Saudis in the Kingdom.”
    … really, get this next part…
    “The audience was particularly surprised to see Shaikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in the Makkah Province, at the event.

    Challenging a ban on women driving, he said: “Clerics have studied the issue and no one has come up with a verse that would forbid women driving … I do not consider it to be forbidden.” He was talking with journalists on the sidelines of the forum.”

  6. Ministers call for more women in the labor force (!!! if for real)

    More work needed to empower women in Saudi society

    “Fitaihi [chairperson of the Khadija Bint Khowailid Center] recommended work on a national plan that reflects rules and regulations; a plan to improve the image of women in society starting from the education curricula and programs; putting women’s issues to the fore in order to ensure women’s status, which is set by Islam; efforts to ensure that there is no injustice or exploitation; and work to establish women as active members in various judicial committees and commissions addressing personal and family problems.”

  7. Saudi women want to soar like eagles

    “‘But Hisham, there seem to be plenty of opportunities of employment here for the qualified, from what I see. Besides, recently there was an announcement of a nine-point plan approved by the government to create more jobs and allow more opportunities for women. I sense the government is serious about it.;

    ‘Yes Tariq, the government may take such steps, but who is going to implement these laws? Bureaucrats who sit on issues for years until they are dead and buried or long forgotten? You should know better. How many laws have been passed over the years, and how many of them have been actually carried out?'”

  8. Media need to create awareness of women’s issues, says Adela

    Saudi Arabia: Special company to build schools and train teachers

    Women of Saudi Arabia Emerge on the Bosporus

    GE launches healthymagination campaign in Saudi Arabia

  9. Saudi Arabia is ‘biggest funder of terrorists’

    Saudi religious authority mulls jobs for women

    Saudi Religious Police Launch Strategic Plan to Combat Extremist Ideology

  10. Desperate wait of condemned Sri Lanka maid’s family
    “The parents of a young Sri Lankan woman sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia have appealed to King Abdullah to pardon her.”

    Sri Lankan Maids Become Victims in Saudi Arabia,8599,2031351,00.html

    Saudi Arabia: Further information: Young woman at risk of execution: Rizana Nafeek

    Saudi Arabian King urged to stop execution of Sri Lankan domestic worker


  11. Decks cleared for holding next municipal elections
    “‘We observe a municipal day (every Tuesday) when we meet people and the press, while we also listen to the grievances of the people,’ said Al-Quayid. He, however, could not say much about the participation of women in the next municipal elections. Saudi women were barred from running or voting in the last elections, but the Saudi government at that time promised they would be allowed to vote in the next elections.”…

    Sri Lankan Maid To Be Beheaded in Saudi Arabia

  12. Saudi pro-democracy group plans first sit-in

    “A Saudi pro-democracy group is planning the kingdom’s first sit-in protest this month to demand radical political reforms, a constitution and elections, its leaders said Friday.

    The gathering is unlikely to be approved as public protests are almost unheard of in Saudi Arabia, partly because the government actively prevents them.”

  13. Report Details Severe Abuse of Indonesian Migrant Workers

    “The report comes after a series severe abuse cases among women employed in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.”–111780749.html

    Rights on the Line
    Human Rights Watch Work on Abuses against Migrants in 2010

    Rights group calls for release of Saudi academic

  14. ‘Gender inequality hampers fair litigation’

    Saudi woman arrested for disguising as a man to escape husband

    Saudi wife disguised as a young man arrested
    “Woman steals from husband, lives with men and drives car for two months”
    [is this an accurate description? is this a fair characterization?]

  15. The Plight of Maids in Saudi Arabia

    Waiting for Reform in Riyadh

    “As King Abdullah al-Saud recovers from his recent surgery in the U.S., his subjects in Saudi Arabia may be wondering what their future holds. The 86-year-old monarch has long branded himself an advocate for reform in the conservative kingdom, saying he supports women’s empowerment, increased tolerance for criticism and religious dialogue, and overhauling the justice system. So how far has he managed to take Saudi Arabia?”

    Al-Anjari participates in women forum

  16. Women Entrepreneurs in Action: Invigorating the Arab microfinance sector

    “Sanabel consists of 82 members from 12 Arab countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Morrocco, Yemen, Tunisia, and Syria, and one European country (the UK).

    “Do women represent a large segment of borrowers in the Arab region? Which Arab countries have the largest percentages of women borrowers?

    “Abdel-Baki: The Arab Region maintains the second highest percentage of women borrowers in the world (at 68 percent), following the Asian market. Within the region, Yemen and Egypt have the largest percentages of women borrowers. This is mainly due to the fact that poverty rates are higher among women worldwide.

    “Al-Masry: What is the percentage of female borrowers in Egypt?

    “Abdel-Baki: In 2009, the Egyptian market saw the percentage of women borrowers (typically the group-loan clients who belong to lower income segments of the market) increase. Currently, there are more than 770,000 female borrowers in Egypt, constituting around 70 percent of total borrowers. However, women tend to have higher repayment rates (less defaults on loans) compared to men.”

    “Sanabel – The Microfinance Network of Arab Countries was established in 2002 by 17 founding members from 7 Arab countries as a membership-driven regional network of microfinance institutions in the Arab world. Currently Sanabel has 78 members from 12 Arab countries. It is estimated that Sanabel members are serving 2.4 million clients representing 83% of the total microfinance clients in the region.

    Vision: Sanabel envisions all low income people in Arab countries with access to comprehensive financial services.

    Mission: Sanabel advocates for growth, innovation, best practices & standardization of the microfinance sector in Arab countries.

    Objectives: 1. Strengthen the capacity of MFIs through needs-based training, technical assistance and peer exchanges. 2. Advocate for a positive and conducive microfinance environment and for the inclusion of microfinance in the financial sector. 3. Promote microfinance best practices among stakeholders in Arab countries through transparency, standardization, peer learning and information exchange efforts. 4. Foster innovation in the microfinance sector by researching and highlighting leading trends in technological developments, product diversification and new financial services.”…

    Saudi Arabia top aid giver

    Saudi Arabia investigating female sports competition, paper reports

    “”We don’t have any regulations that say that it’s okay for girl schools to hold sports classes or training,” Ahmed al-Zahrani, director of the Girls Education Department in Jeddah, told Arab News. “This tournament was held by these schools, something that has now led us to know about their illegal activities.”

    In Saudi Arabia, which practices a very conservative version of Islam known as Wahhabism, women have very little access to sports. Physical education programs don’t exist in the kingdom’s state-run girls schools, as many conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia believe allowing women to engage in sports would be sinful.”

  17. The under-appreciated heroes of 2010 (by Johann Hari)

    “…Under-Appreciated People Four: The Saudi Arabian women who are fighting back. Women like Wajehaal-Huwaider are struggling against a tyranny that bans them from driving, showing their face in public, or even getting medical treatment without permission from their male “guardian”. The streets are policed by black-clad men who enforce sharia law and whip women who express any free will.

    Saudi women are being treated just as horrifically as Iranian women – but because their oppressors are our governments’ allies, rather than our governments’ enemies, you hear almost nothing about them. Huwaider points out that her sisters are fighting back and being beaten and whipped for it, and asks: “Why isn’t the cry of these millions of women heard, and why isn’t it answered by anyone, anywhere in the world?”…

  18. Women’s rights is not a toy for men:

    “…It is certainly not our religion that forbids such activities, and judging from the reactions of most of those around me, it is certainly not many of the people. Then why do we continue to bar any physical activities that encourage the promotion of health among our girls and women?

    Are we afraid of empowering women or allowing them control over their own bodies?…”

    “Why do we men assume such nobility upon ourselves and yet deny those very rights to our womenfolk? Is it fear that by empowering women over their bodies men would lose their control? Some would say our society does not allow for such activities. ‘Balderdash’ is my response. Our society, which some have perversely twisted to mean such a ‘special place’, is no different from any other Muslim country. We are no better or worse than people elsewhere….”

    The following piece by Khalid Alnowaiser has recently appeared in more than one place. Although I cannot pin down the original/first publication source, the words are very important (maybe nothing new to some but extremely important for others nonetheless).

    Religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia- enough is enough

    “…certain puritan religious leaders have ignored Islam’s tolerant and flexible nature and have imposed a kind of strict interpretation that betrays our religion and the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) teachings.”…

    “The prevailing attitude for the past three decades is to relegate Saudi women to an inferior status. I doubt that anybody can equal this school of thought in its dogmatism and strictness with the exception of a few Muslim countries that still live in the Dark Ages.”…

  19. Female Shariah Scholars See Gender Gap Closing

    “Asian Islamic financial institutions are attracting more female executives and scholars to fill a shortage of talent, setting a precedent for companies in the Middle East.” …

    … “In Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim-majority country where women are required to have a male guardian, about 15 percent of the labor force was female in 2009, according to a report by the Geneva-based International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.

    “Getting a visa to Saudi is really difficult, and even when I’m there I face various challenges,” Noripah Kamso, chief executive officer of Kuala Lumpur-based CIMB-Principal Asset Management Bhd., a unit of CIMB Group Holdings Bhd., the world’s biggest sukuk arranger, said in an interview on Dec. 23. “I was once chased by a Saudi police officer because I entered from the wrong door, and travelling without a male colleague is impossible.”

  20. Surge seen in women’s university enrollment

    This article seems very misleading, especially regarding an ambiguity about the allocation of substantial educational funding – how much directed toward rectifying tremendous gender inequalities, and how much elsewhere?

    ” A growing number of Saudi women are enrolling at both local and foreign universities and they represent 56.6 percent of the total number of students currently enrolled at the Kingdom’s universities…”

  21. Saudi Arabia mulls axing female driving ban

    Saudi women want to run in municipal elections

    For First Time In Saudi Arabia, Women To Vote In Municipal Elections

    If true, voting – even if not permitted to run for office – is a big step in the right direction.

  22. Saudi woman held by police – for driving

    “Authorities detained a Saudi woman yesterday after she launched a campaign against the driving ban for women in the ultra-conservative kingdom and posted a videotape of herself behind the wheel on Facebook and YouTube to encourage others to copy her.”…

    …”Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women – both Saudi and foreign – from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor. Women are also barred from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can be in the kingdom’s cabinet. They cannot travel without permission from a male guardian and shouldn’t mingle with males who are not their husbands or brothers.”…

  23. Saudi Arabian woman driver freed after ‘quitting’ campaign

    Saudi woman driver freed after agreeing to quit campaign

    A Saudi Activist, in Her Own Words

    One of my current writing projects focuses on 1) differences between elite human rights organizations, on the one hand, and local, grass roots human rights organizations, on the other hand, 2) differences and similarities in the approaches, actions, and efficacy between the two aforementioned organizations, and 3) what kinds of changes in the allocation of resources for these two groups of organizations might better enable them to accomplish their goals, such as reducing sexual oppression and gender inequalities in Saudi Arabia generally and empowering women there to drive freely particularly, for instance.

    The current plan is to post relevant links if not manuscript drafts to the papers page of my little philosophy website before too long (that is, if/when I develop the paper to the point when it might be worth attention…)

  24. Saudi Arabia looks to ban child brides

    “The case of a nine-year-old girl given away in marriage by her father to a 58-year-old man because of argument with his wife shocked many Saudis. Widespread media coverage brought the plight of child brides to the fore in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom where no law currently protects children like “the Unayzah girl,” as she was called after her home town, from the misery of early marriage.

    That was two years ago. Finally, the Shoura Council, Saudi Arabia’s 150-member consultative body, voted this week by a large margin in favor of setting a minimum marriage age for women. The council is only an advisory body, so the matter has been sent to the Justice Ministry for enactment. Government sources told the on-line daily Ilaf that the ministry would set the minimum marriage age at 17…”

    Child marriage is “murder of innocence”

    “A Saudi legislator who pushed for the enforcement of laws to curb widespread child marriage in the Gulf Kingdom has denounced such a phenomenon, saying it amounts a murder of innocence and childhood.

    Zuhair Al Harthi, a member of Shura (appointed parliament) said the majority of the council now supports a legislation to end child marriage in the world’s dominant oil power following intensifying criticism worldwide…”

  25. Saudi’s vote for women comes a little late, activists say

    “Riyadh: Saudi political analysts and women’s activists have expressed their disappointment over the recommendation of the Kingdom’s consultative body, the Shura Council, to allow women only to vote in the municipal elections.”

    Saudi house backs women voting right in 2015

    “Saudi Arabia’s consultative Shura council has recommended allowing women to vote in the next local polls, in at least four years, without being permitted to run for office, a member said Tuesday.”

  26. A Conversation With Saudi Women’s Rights Campaigner Wajeha al-Huwaider

    from Katha Pollitt in The Nation (online 6/08/11)

    For relevant developments (or lack of them), see comments 49 and 51 above. Also, for a sadly awesome piece by Wajeha al-Huwaider from August 16, 2009, see here:

    Saudi Women Can Drive. Just Let Them.

    Although the piece above comes from the Washington Post, their webpage for it oddly seems to take a few minutes before the full text appears. For those interested, see:

  27. Saudis to look into women’s rights issues

    [As many of the comments above illustrate, announcements such as this one often seem to go nowhere, though perhaps many steps of various sizes build in various ways toward progress…]

    “The top official in the Saudi Human Rights Commission said the country’s judiciary is called on to investigate women’s rights issues…”

    Woman’s defiance inspires Saudi road warriors–woman-s-defiance-inspires-saudi-road-warriors

    Saudi women take to their cars hoping for change

    Six women detained in Riyadh for driving

  28. Spinning their wheels or driving change?

    Hillary Clinton offers support to Saudi women seeking right to drive

    curiously, the Washington Post story linked below no longer appears on their website:

    After silence, Clinton praises ‘brave’ Saudi women protesting driving ban, says goal is right

  29. Indonesian Maid Beheaded In Saudi Arabia

    Indonesia Imposes Moratorium on Sending Workers to Saudi Arabia

    Overworked maids endure abuse

    Govt to pay ‘blood money’ for Darsem

    Darsem, a housemaid from Subang, West Java, was sentenced to death by a Saudi Arabian court for murdering her employer after he allegedly attempted to rape her.

    Saudi execution prompts Indonesia maid travel ban

    Maid ‘held hostage’ for 14 years in Saudi Arabia

    Interested readers might also want to check out the related comments above numbered 12, 16, 19, and 28

  30. Germany/Saudi Arabia: Don’t Sell Out on Human Rights

    “Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany should consider the political signals her government is sending to Saudi Arabia before approving a deal to sell 200 German-made tanks to the kingdom, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia has a dismal human rights record and has deployed forces to Bahrain to help suppress pro-democracy protests there…”

    Saudi Arabia’s religion police step up crackdown on women drivers

  31. More people need to be talking if not shouting everyday (in the news, in the streets, in supermarkets, at dinner parties, in classrooms, at organized meetings…) about why the U.S. continues to do business, maintain considerably good diplomatic relations, and generally (and often officially) remain friends with some of the worst human rights violators in the word. Here is one news piece that begins to speak to this matter as well as important pragmatic considerations.

    Why the U.S. needs Canadian oil

    Saudi Woman To Face Trial for Driving in Medical Emergency

  32. Proposed Saudi Arabian anti-terror law would strangle peaceful protest

    “A draft Saudi Arabian anti-terrorism law obtained by Amnesty International would allow the authorities to prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime…”

    “The organization has obtained copies of the Draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism, which would also allow extended detention without charge or trial. Questioning the integrity of the King or the Crown Prince would carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years…”

    Saudi Arabia’s new law would make political dissent a crime

    —In better news even if just words/talk so far…:

    Saudi prince says women should have equal rights

    “…On Thursday, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud told CNN’s Piers Morgan that women in his country should be granted full equal rights, a view unlikely to go over well back home…”

  33. Fourteen Female U.S. Senators Urge Saudi King To Grant Women Right To Drive

    Female senators to Saudi Arabia: Let women drive

    “Fourteen female senators, Democrat and Republican, sent a letter to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia Tuesday urging him to end the country’s ban on women driving…”

    Saudi Arabia blocks Amnesty International Web site after anti-terror law leak

    “…The move came after Amnesty International criticized a leaked copy of a draft of an anti-terror law proposed by the Saudi government that would stifle peaceful protest in the kingdom…”

  34. Cleric Fights Saudi Bid to Ban Child Marriages

    A senior Saudi cleric issued a religious ruling to allow fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters “even if they are in the cradle,” setting up a confrontation between government reformers and influential conservative clergy…

    For more on this, please check out the link(s at the link) below:

    World turning blind eye to 10 million child brides each year, charity warns

  35. What do people think about

    “ encourages people, businesses and governments to choose Ethical Oil from Canada, its oil sands and other liberal democracies. Unlike Conflict Oil from some of the world’s most politically oppressive and environmentally reckless regimes, Ethical Oil is the “Fair Trade” choice in oil.

    “Countries that produce Ethical Oil protect the rights of women, workers, indigenous peoples and other minorities including gays and lesbians. Conflict Oil regimes, by contrast, oppress their citizens and operate in secret with no accountability to voters, the press or independent judiciaries…”

    Please do not stop raising consciousness, and asking questions, about why the U.S. does business, and is on quite friendly terms, with some of the worst human rights violators and terrorists/terrorism funders in the world. Saudi Arabia is sadly an excellent example. Arguably, so is China. (I hate to type it, but… And so on.)

    Obviously, the media push for Canadian oil has conflicting interests, though the push arguably contains many good points…

    Putting a new face on the oilsands

    Saudi political prisoners long for justice

  36. Indonesian Muslims appalled by beheading of woman

    “…The beheading of Ruyati binti Satubi – executed in June for the killing of an allegedly abusive Saudi employer – stirred such revulsion here that even the most strictly observant Indonesian Muslims now ask how the guardians of Islam’s most sacred sites can be so heedless of their faith’s call for compassion…”

    “…While few doubt that Satubi stabbed her boss, the mother of three is widely viewed as a martyr – the victim of a harsh and often xenophobic justice and social system rooted in Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi creed, a highly dogmatic and intolerant strand of Islam that, in its most extreme forms, helped provide the theological underpinnings for jihadi militants…”

    “…At least 20 Indonesians, nearly all women, are on death row in the Persian Gulf kingdom…”
    “…Migrant Care, an Indonesian group that lobbies on behalf of workers abroad, said it has this year already received 6,500 reports of violence, sexual harassment, rape and other abuses against Indonesians in Saudi Arabia. Eighty percent of the more than 1.2 million Indonesians working there are women, mostly maids….”

  37. Saudi women gain vote for the first time

    As j says at the link below (thanks Monkey for the post!), we shall see…

    Although Saudi Arabia ranks 55 in the High Human Develop category of the Human Development Index, it ranks 128, I believe, in the Gender Inequality Index. Interested readers can use the tool at the first link below (to see what differences the relevant and related factors here do, and can, make), and may wish to check out many of the general comparisons at the more general second link below.

  38. Saudi Arabia and Its Women

    “… The list of fundamental rights still denied to Saudi women is long and shameful. Men — their fathers or husbands — control whether they can travel, work, receive health care, attend school or start a business. Women are banned from driving.

    Even after Sunday’s announcement, women will not be able to vote and run for municipal elections until 2015 — even though there is an election scheduled for Thursday — and they will need the approval of a male family member to exercise either right…”

    An Oil Ad Vexes the Saudis

    following up on this comment regarding “ethicaloil”…

Comments are closed.