UN Elects Saudi Arabia to Women's Rights Commission

Decision draws harsh criticism from various human rights groups, who cite country's continued enforcement of male guardianship system

Saudi King Salman salutes as he attends a ceremony and air show in Saudi Arabia on January 25, 2017.
Saudi King Salman salutes as he attends a ceremony and air show in Saudi Arabia on January 25, 2017. Faisal Al Nasser/REUTERS

Saudi Arabia has been elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, alarming various human rights groups.

The Commission Council elected Saudi Arabia by secret ballot to a four-year term beginning in 2018, along with twelve other new members, according to a UN Economic and Social Council press release on Wednesday.

“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, in a statement on Twitter. “It’s absurd.”

“Every Saudi woman,” said Neuer, “must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death. Saudi Arabia also bans women from driving cars.”

The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 141 out of 144 countries for gender equality, five places below where they were in the 2015 ranking.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women is "the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women," its website states. They are “instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

According to the 2016 UN Human Development report, Saudi Arabia still enforces the archaic guardianship system, which prevents women from performing fundamental tasks such as traveling, marrying or in some cases even accepting employment or accessing health care without the permission of a male relative.