In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive, cannot use many facilities utilized by men and must receive a man’s written permission to open a bank account, travel or receive medical care. Apparently, the United Nation sees this record on women’s rights as sufficient to give Saudi Arabia a spot on a new women’s rights board.

This is a disgrace. Allowing Saudi Arabia to have a seat on a board that discusses and determines women’s rights issues is an insult to every woman on earth, as well as an insult to every country that respects the rights of women.

Unfortunately, this continues the UN’s sad history of allowing the opponents of human rights to hold power over the very same rights they deny to their own people. I would love to be able to say that Saudi Arabia is the only country on the board that doesn’t deserve to be there, but that would be ignoring the fact that both Libya, where women are imprisoned for “social rehabilitation,” and the Congo, where rape is practiced with sickening impunity as a tool of warfare, were both offered spots on the board.

The idea of having a UN board to discuss and promote women’s rights makes sense, and it is a noble goal. Sadly, the inclusion of these countries with backwards and barbaric records when it comes to women has discredited the UN women’s board even before it holds its first meeting.
Should a country where women do not have the right to dress as they please be allowed to pass judgement on women’s rights in another country? The answer to that is obvious to all of us, yet clearly not so obvious to the UN. Why would one let the fox guard the hen house?

According to an article appearing on, a man in Saudi Arabia is able to marry up to four wives. When the reporter asked why this was allowed, a Saudi delegate responded that “[ . . . ] it was to ensure a man’s sexual appetite was satisfied legally if one wife could not fulfill it.” Charming. Thank goodness that Saudi Arabia will be able to lecture the countries of the world on how to treat women; what would we do without their brilliant guidance?

This sends a disturbing message to those who support the UN and to all of us who support women’s rights. The UN is saying that they will not stand against those who treat half of their own people like second-class citizens. They are saying that they lack a value system based in reality, and they are showing that they lack a moral compass.

The sad thing about this, aside from the legitimacy granted to the oppression of women, is the fact that the United Nations was once an organization with lots of potential. When formed from the wreckage of the Second World War, the UN offered the world a chance to achieve a unity of purpose and gave hope to those still suffering that one day they too would be free. Today, this potential is lost. The UN has become a weak and for the most part ineffectual organization. Though there are various programs that do some good things, and though there are many UN workers who are compassionate people determined to help those in need, the overall organization itself has become an impediment to the goals it claims to be fighting for.

Where do we go from here? Though opinions will vary, it seems that the UN is close to the breaking point when it comes to its public credibility. For many, including myself, the UN lost all credibility long ago, and it will be difficult for the UN to justify the dues it receives from member countries when that money is put towards foolish mistakes such as a women’s rights board that features countries such as Saudi Arabia. If the UN does not get their act together soon, it might be better off for the democracies of the world to form their own organization, one based on human rights and a true set of values.

Spencer Fernando is the International Comment Coordinator for the Manitoban.

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