In July, the United Nations announced the formation of a new agency, UN Women, that combines four agencies of the UN that work towards the advancement of women.
Earlier this month UN Women elected countries that would sit on its first board, with Saudi Arabia gaining a seat on the 41-member board. The election of Saudi Arabia has received much criticism because Saudi Arabia is not known for its promotion of women’s rights, including women not having the right to vote or have drivers licenses. Saudi Arabia has also been criticized for passing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with reservations stated that anytime any point of the convention contradicted Islamic Law, they would not implement it, which effectively nullifies several articles of the convention. The United States was vocal in its opposition to Saudi Arabia and other countries with poor records of female empowerment joining this board. It was thought to make a mockery of the entire organization. As one reporter explained, “It took years to make the United Nations’ newest agency, UN Women, a reality, and then just one day to effectively kill it.” The reporter goes on to say that Saudi Arabia most likely bought its way onto the board by offering generous donations.
Its interesting to look at other countries that have also been voted onto the board, countries like the United States and Democratic Republic of Congo. The United States refused to sign ratify CEDAW entirely, and has been criticized for it, and the DRC has been referred to as the worst place to be a woman because of the practice of mass rape as a weapon of war. In the field of international relations, countries commonly criticize another country’s adherence to human rights even though its own history of human rights might be questionable at best. Usually this is considered considered to be a weakness of a country’s criticism; for example, how can the United States criticize Saudi Arabia when it too has a history of not passing UN resolutions related to women’s rights? Yet if each country waited until they were perfect examples of united and equal societies, we could never bring human rights’ violations to the attention of the international arena. A moral void would be created because there would be a paralysis of action.
Notwithstanding, only focusing on the violations occurring in one place but not in another creates a system of relativism, in which not all violations are treated equally. How, then, can a community determine how principles should be applied? Who is to decide what changes are to be made and how?