Saudi women are not allowed to make major decisions without the permission of a male relative, drive cars or spend too much time around men to whom they’re not related. The country that enforces those laws has now been elected to a United Nations commission promoting women’s rights.
The secret ballot approval of Saudi Arabia was pointed out by the human rights group UN Watch. The country was elected to a 2018-2022 term on the Commission on the Status of Women, the U.N. agency that is “exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” according to its website.
“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said in a statement. “It’s absurd — and morally reprehensible.”
While the World Economic Report does rank Saudi Arabia 134 out of 145 countries on its 2015 gender gap report, it is not the only country on the commission with an incredibly low ranking. Egypt and Iran rank even lower than Saudi Arabia on the same report, and Qatar is only a few spots above. All have seats on the commission, which has 45 total spots.
Saudi Arabia is the only country that prohibits women from obtaining a driver’s license.
Normally, the process for selecting the countries is done behind closed doors in a rubber stamp process by the UN’s 54-nation Economic and Social Council. The United States forced an election this year, which shows Saudi Arabia received 47 out of 54 votes cast. While it’s unknown exactly which countries approved Saudi Arabia and who didn’t, UN Watch said at least 15 of 22 democratic countries – possibly including the United States – approved Saudi Arabia.
“Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death,” Neuer said, calling the vote a “black day for women’s rights, and for all human rights.”
Saudi Arabia also made headlines in March for launching a “Girls Council” that had no girls on it. Pictures showed 13 men on stage with no women present. They were reportedly in another room, linked via video, because state law mandates the segregation of unrelated men and women.