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Despite Lamentable Record, UN Chooses Saudi Arabia to Lead Women’s Rights Forum

Saudi Arabia has been selected to chair the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) following an uncontested bid, a move that has drawn criticism from human rights organizations due to the kingdom’s poor track record on women’s rights.

Abdulaziz Alwasil, the Saudi ambassador to the UN, was elected as the chair of the CSW through “acclamation” during the annual meeting in New York, as there were no competing candidates and no objections raised by the 45 members present. The endorsement came from the group of Asia-Pacific states on the commission.

While countries typically hold the chair for a two-year term, pressure from other members prompted the Philippines, the outgoing chair, to split its tenure and pass the post to another country after one year. Initially expected to assume the position, Bangladesh was later overshadowed by Saudi Arabia, which stepped in and lobbied for the chairmanship as a move to enhance its image.

The decision has been met with irony by human rights groups, given Saudi Arabia’s substantial gap between men’s and women’s rights, even on paper. Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International’s New York office, highlighted the significance of Saudi Arabia’s leadership role next year, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Beijing declaration, a crucial document for women’s rights advancement worldwide.

Despite Saudi officials citing progress in women’s rights, such as the establishment of a “personal status” law in 2022, critics argue that it falls short of meaningful change. The law still mandates a woman to obtain male guardian approval for marriage and places restrictions on a wife’s autonomy, requiring obedience to her husband for financial support.

While the Saudi mission to the UN declined to comment, the appointment of Saudi Arabia to lead the CSW raises concerns about the alignment of the country’s policies with the commission’s mandate to promote gender equality and empower women globally.

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