World’s Worst-Scoring Country For Gender Equality Gets Leadership Post in UN Women’s Agency

Patrick Goodenough | January 10, 2019 | 12:14am EST
Font Size
Yemeni women and girls queue to receive the dinner meal provided by a local charity group on June 10, 2018 in Sana’a, Yemen. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

(Adds comment from UN Women secretariat)

( – For the past 13 years, a comprehensive annual report has given Yemen the lowest ranking in the world for gender equality. This week Yemen was handed the vice presidency of the executive board of the United Nations gender equality and women’s empowerment agency, UN Women, for 2019.

The decision drew strong criticism from a leading non-governmental monitor of the world body. UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer called it “an insult to women’s rights activists worldwide who struggle against the persecution exemplified by Yemen's misogynistic laws and practices.”

For the past two years war-torn Yemen has served on the U.N. Women executive board, which comprises 41 members serving three-year terms. This year it will also hold one of four vice presidencies, for the Asia Pacific group (Each year’s president comes from one of the U.N.’s five regional groups, and the four vice presidents from the remaining four.)

The decision was taken at a meeting in New York on Tuesday, when Yemen got the post “by acclamation” – that is, it was “elected” without a recorded vote, since no country raised objections and called for one.

“Glad to be elected as vice-president of UN Women Executive Board for Asia-Pacific Group for 2019,” tweeted Yemen’s U.N. representative Marwan Ali Noman afterwards.

The board’s president and four vice presidents work with UN Women’s secretariat to prepare for and organize formal board meetings, and inform and consult with their respective regional group. They meet once a month through the year, and daily during executive board sessions.

In response to queries about Yemen’s election, UN Women secretariat spokesperson Oisika Chakrabarti said, “UN Women is not involved in the election of the executive board’s bureau. It is a member-states driven process.”

On the same day as Yemen got the post, UN Women’s Asia Pacific regional office retweeted a tweet that linked to the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) annual “Global Gender Gap” report.

The executive board of UN Women, the U.N. gender equality and women’s empowerment agency, meets in New York. (Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown)

Each year’s report measures gaps between women and men in the areas of political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival. The report incorporates an index ranking countries. The report covering 2018, which was released last month, has Yemen in last place of the 149 countries evaluated.

WEF has produced the report every year since 2005, when the inaugural one, covering just 58 countries, did not include Yemen. (Egypt was at the bottom of the list on that occasion.)

In every year since – from 2006 when 115 countries were assessed to 2017 when 144 countries were evaluated – Yemen has come in last.

UN Women’s executive board in 2019 includes a number of other countries that score poorly in the most recent Global Gender Gap report, among them Saudi Arabia (in 141st place out of 149), Nigeria (133rd), Burkina Faso (129th), Angola (125th) and United Arab Emirates (121st).

Last year’s executive board members included Pakistan (in second-last place this year, 148th), Iran (142nd), and Bahrain (132nd).

(As in previous years, Islamic nations dominate the bottom end of the rankings in the 2018 WEF report, accounting for 26 of the 30 lowest ranking countries.)

Neuer of UN Watch said U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres and U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet should “speak out against this absurd and morally repugnant decision, which sends absolutely the wrong message from the very organization that is supposed to be protecting women from discrimination.”

“How could the U.N. choose Yemen, a country that tolerates female genital mutilation, denies women hospital treatment without the permission of a male relative, and counts a woman's testimony as worth half that of a man?” he asked.

“We remind the U.N. that women in Yemen cannot marry without permission of their male guardians, and face deeply entrenched discrimination in both law and practice, in all aspects of their lives, including employment, education and housing.”

According to UNICEF data, one in ten Yemeni girls marries by the age of 15, and there are reports of girls being married off as young as eight.

An Aug. 2018 UNFPA report on Yemen found that 48 percent of women are illiterate and three million Yemeni women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence.

According to the most recent State Department country reports on human rights, female genital mutilation is legal, and a 2013 health ministry survey found that 19 percent of all Yemeni women between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone some form of FGM.

mrc merch