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Saudi Arabia elected to UN Women

Saudi Arabia elected to UN Women

In a country where women struggle for rights, it may seem strange to be part of the UN Women project. But Eman Al Nafjan says it’s a vital step forward.

November 11, 2010 2:30 by

In the past two weeks there has been a lot of coverage regarding Iran and Saudi Arabia’s bid to join UN Women. UN Women is a merge of four departments within the UN whose focus is on women’s rights:

  • Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW)
  • International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW)
  • Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)
  • United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

Looking at the four, you’ll see that they all work towards achieving equality, through research, funding, training and so on.

Most of the reports on Saudi Arabia becoming a member were expressed with incredulity, one going as far as calling it a joke. I can understand their misgivings but the issue lies on what type of organization will result from this merge. If by signing on Saudi Arabia, it is meant that Saudi has eradicated discrimination, abuse and inequality, then of course it takes no expert to tell you that that is absurd. However if by signing on, it will mean that Saudi will work towards that goal, then women in Saudi need all the help they can get.

If you go back to UN Women’s website, you’ll find that their aim is not a checklist of countries who have given women their full rights. Their board members are not supposed to sign a document and then pretend everything is ok. In a direct response to the question: How will UN Women work with UN Member States? On the FAQ page, the answer was:

One of the main aims of creating UN Women is to strengthen the UN’s ability to provide coherent, timely and demand-driven support to UN Member States, at their request, in their efforts to realize equality for all women and girls. It will be up to each Member State to decide what kind of support UN Women will provide in that country.

I don’t believe much can be accomplished by rejecting Saudi Arabia. All over the world women are treated unequally and abused in differing degrees so the majority of the countries on the board of the new UN Women do have women issues in their own countries. Ethiopia, Pakistan, India and even Congo are now UN Women member states! Yes Saudi Arabia is on the extreme side of the spectrum but that’s all the more reason to include it. By including it, UN Women will be able to gain access and document the ongoing gender apartheid. It could engage Saudis and educate women here on their rights. Generally speaking, inclusion could translate into a more proactive and direct influence.

Eman Al Nafjan is a post-graduate student from Riyadh and author of the Saudi Woman blog.

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