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Outrage as Saudi Arabia picked to head women’s rights forum

The UN has chosen Saudi Arabia to chair a commission on gender equality, to the dismay of rights groups. Amnesty International has described the kingdom’s record on women’s rights as “abysmal.”

Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador, Abdulaziz Alwasil, has been chosen to chair the world body’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) after the country’s bid for the position remained unopposed.

The choice has been slammed by rights groups, as women in Saudi Arabia itself are severely disadvantaged under law.

Such posts rotate among the UN’s five regional groups, and are usually confirmed unanimously, in a precedent that other countries may have been unwilling to upset. The Asia group, which includes Saudi Arabia, unanimously confirmed the Saudi candidacy.

What have rights groups said?

“Saudi Arabia’s election as chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women shows shocking disregard for women’s rights everywhere,” Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said.

“A country that jails women simply because they advocate for their rights has no business being the face of the UN’s top forum for women’s rights and gender equality. Saudi authorities should demonstrate that this honor was not completely undeserved and immediately release all detained women’s rights defenders, end male guardianship and ensure women’s full rights to equality with men,” he said.

Ahead of the appointment, Amnesty International already issued a statement condemning the move.

“The Commission on the Status of Women has a clear mandate to promote women’s rights and gender equality and it is vital for the chair of the commission to uphold this. Saudi Arabia’s abysmal record when it comes to protecting and promoting the rights of women puts a spotlight on the vast gulf between the lived reality for women and girls in Saudi Arabia, and the aspirations of the Commission,” Amnesty International’s deputy director for advocacy, Sherine Tadros, said.

“Saudi Arabia’s 2022 Personal Status Law, hailed by the authorities as a step towards progress and equality in fact entrenches gender-based discrimination in every aspect of family life, from marriage, to divorce, child custody and inheritance, and fails to protect women from gender-based violence,” she added.

What is the situation of women in Saudi Arabia?

Although Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has promised reform and, for instance, gave women the right to drive in 2018, rights groups say that women in the kingdom are still subject to many discriminatory restrictions.

For example, Saudi women still have to obtain a male guardian’s permission to marry.

Under laws introduced as recently as 2022, women are also required to obey their husbands in a “reasonable manner,” while financial support from women’s spouses is contingent upon wives’ “obedience,” according to the Guardian newspaper.

According to Amnesty International, women who stand up for their human rights in Saudi Arabia are persecuted, with female rights activists being placed under travel bans and restricted in their freedom of speech.

In addition, Saudi Arabian women who have posted on social media in support of women’s rights have received prison terms, sometimes extremely long ones.

Under the 2022 law, a husband can also withdraw financial support from his wife if she refuses to have sex with him, live with him or travel with him. 

Source: Dw

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