UN Gives Iran Leadership Post in Agency for 'Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women'

Patrick Goodenough | April 13, 2015 | 4:16am EDT
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Women in Noushebad, Iran, on Dec. 17, 2010. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – With little fanfare, a U.N. body has given Iran seats on several entities, including one dealing with women’s empowerment, another with children, a third with narcotics and a fourth with crime prevention and criminal justice.

From January 1 next year, Iran will be a member of the executive board of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (U.N. Women), the executive board of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

U.S. taxpayers account for 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular operating budget, plus millions of additional dollars to individual U.N. agencies. The State Department’s fiscal year 2016 request includes $7.7 million for U.N. Women and $132 million for UNICEF.

The decisions were made between Wednesday and Friday last week, at sessions of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a 54-member U.N. organ that coordinates socio-economic and related affairs.

Iran each time was on a “closed slate” of candidates put forward by its regional group, Asia. The contentious U.N. practice, which entails submitting the same number of candidates as there are vacancies available, effectively rules out any contest.

Closed slates have enabled repressive regimes to take up leadership posts across the U.N. system. Unless objections are raised, there is no actual vote, and the regionally-endorsed candidates are instead given the nod “by acclamation.”

Arguably the most controversial of the ECOSOC decisions was the one giving Iran a seat on the executive board of U.N. Women for a three-year term.

In that instance the United States did object, calling for a secret vote ballot for the five vacant seats open to the Asia group.

After complaints by some member-states, a secret ballot was held on Friday: ECOSOC members therefore had the opportunity to choose from among around 50 countries in Asia, including the five countries endorsed by the group, to fill the five vacancies.

Despite having that significantly widened choice, ECOSOC still handed Iran enough votes for it to secure a seat – 36 votes, well over the 27-vote minimum. (Of the other four endorsed candidates, the United Arab Emirates and Samoa got 53 votes each, Turkmenistan 52 votes and Pakistan 49 votes.)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power afterwards underlined the fact Iran had received a relatively low level of support.

“The low vote total that Iran received today testifies to the deep concerns U.N. member states have about Iran assuming a position on the board of U.N. Women,” she said in a statement.

“In Iran, women are legally barred from holding some government positions, there are no laws against domestic violence, and adultery is punishable by stoning, making it wholly inappropriate that Iran assume a leadership role on women’s rights and welfare at the U.N.,” Power said.

Iran got the UNICEF and Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice posts “by acclamation,” and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in another secret ballot vote.

‘Widespread and systematic discrimination’

In a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council last month, 36 human rights groups drew attention to concerns about Iran’s rights record, including “widespread and systematic discrimination [against women] in law and practice.”

“Official policies aimed at restricting female employment and encouraging women to stay at home and pursue ‘traditional’ roles as wives and mothers continued,” they said, also citing laws that discriminate against women in areas such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

The groups also recalled that a peaceful protest in Tehran last October against a spate of acid attacks against women and girls ended with security agents assaulting and arresting some of the participants.

Iran was sixth from the bottom among more than 140 countries assessed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its most recent annual “Global Gender Gap” report. The report measures gaps between women and men in the areas of political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival.

(Pakistan, also elected onto U.N. Women on Friday, fared even worse in the WEF report, in second last place, above Yemen at the very bottom.)

Despite its often criticized record on women’s rights, Iran has made a point of submitting candidacies for U.N. bodies dealing with gender issues – with varying success.

U.N. Women began operating in 2011 with the mandate of promoting the equality of women worldwide.

When ECOSOC held the inaugural election for the new agency in late 2010, the Asia group included Iran in its slate of 10 candidates for 10 seats earmarked for the region.

Human rights groups expressed outrage, and after an Asian country not on the original slate, East Timor, was encouraged to submit its candidacy, Iran fell short of the required number of votes. The U.S. later took responsibility for that achievement.

But when Iran earlier that same year stood for another U.N. entity, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), for a four-year term beginning in 2011, the outcome was different. Neither the U.S. nor any other ECOSOC member raised an objection, and Iran was elected “by acclamation.”

Last April, Iran stood for another four-year term on the CSW. Once again, no country raised objections or called for a recorded vote that would have put the nomination to the test, and again, Iran got the post “by acclamation.”

Afterwards, U.S. Ambassador Power called it “an outrage.”

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