Oppressive Iran, Pakistan Elected to UN Body That Promotes ‘Gender Equality,’ ‘Empowerment of Women’

By Patrick Goodenough | April 22, 2021 | 4:17am EDT
Iranian women pray on Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, in western Tehran. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
Iranian women pray on Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, in western Tehran. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – In a secret ballot election, United Nations member-states have elected Iran and Pakistan to four-year terms on the world body’s top agency “dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

Three weeks earlier those two Muslim-majority countries ranked near the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s latest “Global Gender Gap,” an annual survey examining differences between men and women in four specific areas – political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival.

Of the 156 countries featured in this year’s World Economic Forum report, Iran was in 150th place and Pakistan in 154th. The only countries doing worse on gender equality were in conflict zones – Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Syria.

The voting for seats on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place on Tuesday at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a 54-member U.N. body empowered to fill leadership posts in a range of U.N. agencies.

Of 53 votes cast, Pakistan received 50 votes and Iran received 43. Therefore, only three countries chose to withhold their votes in Pakistan’s case, and only 10 in the case of Iran – despite the fact that more than 25 members of ECOSOC could be defined as liberal democracies (They include Australia, Canada, Britain, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and 12 European nations.)

U.S. taxpayers account for 22 percent of the regular budget of the U.N., which includes major organs like ECOSOC.

The only reason a vote was held at all to fill vacant CSW seats earmarked for the Asia group was because the United States called for a recorded vote. Important U.N. leadership posts are more often than not filled “by acclamation” – that is, members merely green light a country nominated by its regional group, without actually casting ballots.

When Iran and Pakistan take their seats on the CSW next year, they will not be alone among its 45 members to have fared poorly in the WEF gender equality rankings. Others occupying CSW seats will include Iraq (in 154th place out of 156), Saudi Arabia (147th), Mauritania (146th), Niger (138th) and Algeria (136th).

Of the bottom 15 places in the WEF rankings, all but the DRC are held by Muslim-majority nations.

Although Pakistan is one of a small handful of Islamic nations to have had a female head of state or government (Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto 1988-1990, 1993-1996), its record of gender equality is among the worst in the world, with violence against women, rape, domestic abuse, and gender discrimination commonplace.

The WEF scored Pakistan relatively well for political empowerment (98th place out of 156), but its rankings were especially low for health and survival (153rd), economic participation (152nd), and educational attainment (144th).

In the case of Iran, its highest ranking was 119th, for education attainment, while its political empowerment placing was near the bottom of the rankings, in 151st place.

Young Iranian women in Tehran. (Photo by Franco Czerny/Getty Images)
Young Iranian women in Tehran. (Photo by Franco Czerny/Getty Images)

According to U.N. data in 2018, 17 percent of Iranian girls are married younger than 18. (The equivalent figure for the U.S. is 0.46 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.)

Official discrimination against Iranian women recorded in U.N. reports includes underrepresentation in decision-making posts and the labor force, harassment of women’s rights campaigners, and unequal treatment relating to divorce, dress, and freedom of movement. Under Iran’s penal code, a woman’s testimony in a court of law holds half the weight as a man’s. Recorded abuses of female prisoners include forced marriages and the rape of virgins on death row.

UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental monitor of U.N. agencies, condemned Iran’s election onto the CSW in particular, calling it “a black day for women’s rights, and for all human rights.”

“Iran’s fundamentalist mullahs force women to cover their hair, with many arrested and attacked daily under the misogynistic hijab law,” said the group’s executive director, Hillel Neuer. “They require a woman to receive permission from her father to get married. The legal age for a girl to marry in Iran is 13 – with even younger girls allowed to marry with paternal and judicial consent.”

“Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime imprisons courageous women’s rights activists, such as Nasrin Sotudeh [a lawyer who represented women charged for protesting the mandatory wearing of the hijab, sentenced to prison for alleged security offenses], Mojgan Keshavarz, Yasaman Aryani, and Monireh Arabshahi, for the crime of peacefully demanding their human dignity.”

“Why, then, did the U.N. name one of the world’s worst oppressors of women as a world judge and guardian of gender equality and the empowerment of women?” Neuer asked.

He commended the Biden administration for pressing for a recorded vote, but urged it to “also speak out to condemn the obscene election of Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime to a women’s rights body.”

Queries sent to the State Department brought no response by press time.

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