The stated purpose of the new organization is to focus “exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment.” Yet tomorrow, UN Women is expected to invite two of the world’s most anti-woman states onto its board. Both the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are gender-apartheid states that have enshrined women’s second-class status in their constitutions.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has insisted that it will execute Sakineh Ashtiani, one among at least 23 people on death row in Iran awaiting stoning executions, 80 percent of whom are women. In Iran, the constitution allows for the legalized rape of the girlchild by setting the age of marriage for girls at 9 years; its penal code provides for 74 lashes for not wearing hijab; according to the penal code, a woman’s life is worth half of a man’s; and daughters’ access to inheritance is not equal to that of a son. Women are particularly subject to rape in prison, although men are also subjected to prison rape. These are just a few of the most egregious examples of the ways in which women’s subjugation is codified into the law in the Islamic Republic.
Saudi Arabia is no different. Saudi Arabia is a country where they punish women for being raped. Like Iran, women may not travel without the permission of their fathers or husbands, and do not have the right to make their own legal decisions, including the decision of whether or not to marry, and if so, to whom.
In these countries, women do not have the right to choose for themselves, from something as little as what clothes they will wear each day, to something as humanly significant as how to live and whom to love.
By inviting these two states to sit on the board of UN Women, the United Nations reveals its animosity towards women: it is using seats on the UN Women board to legitimize anti-woman regimes, in clear contradiction to foundational UN documents, including the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Allowing anti-woman states to guide policy on gender equality at the global level is a political choice that the United Nations and each of its constituent governments are making, and it is a political choice that women as well as men worldwide reject.
The campaign for Sakineh Ashtiani has shown that in fact all of humanity stands against regimes that treat women as less than human, denying them even the most basic of human rights. We expect that the UN and its constituent governments will understand that in raising our voices for Sakineh, the world has not only stood for one woman, but has risen in defense of the human rights of all women, regardless of whether they live in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or in the United States, Canada, or Mexico.
We do not allow regimes that enshrine misogyny in their legal system to develop gender policy for women worldwide. We fundamentally reject the anti-woman policies of these states, and we fundamentally reject the anti-woman stance taken by the United Nations as an organization. We have not forgotten the position taken by the UN at the end of April this year when it ushered onto the UN Commission on the Status of Women the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a state that did nothing to oppose a campaign to obliterate female humanity by raping 15,000 women last year alone.
We expect that the campaign for Sakineh Ashtiani, and the world’s response to her case, will have its impact on the process of selection of board members at UN Women. If on November 10 the United Nations and its constituent governments dare to neglect the outcry raised by women and men worldwide that opposes the misogyny of the United Nations and the regimes it invites to the table, the world must be prepared to respond forcefully.
If these expectations remain unfulfilled, Mission Free Iran will do our part to set the record straight on the issue of the United Nations’ role in serving the political interests of misogynist, gender-apartheid regimes when we appear in protest in front of the UN on December 11 to demand the criminalization of stoning worldwide and the removal of anti-woman regimes from all of the UN’s gender policy bodies.