Friday, November 12, 2010

UN Women: Iran Voted Out; Timor-Leste Voted In; Saudi Arabia In As A Donor Nation

An Iranian woman wearing a chador walking past a painting on the wall of the former US Embassy in Tehran, site of the hostage taking by Khomeini's student revolutionaries in 1979-80, on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010. (AP / Vahid Salemi)

A major campaign spearheaded by the United States, and helped by Canada, Australia, and the European Union, successfully voted Iran out of contention for a seat on the governing board of the newly formed UN Women, the agency which combines four previous agencies--UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI), and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW)--into one, with the goal of achieving equality for women.

Not too long ago it was a foregone conclusion that all 10 of the countries proposed by the Asia Group as candidates for its 10 seats would become members. However, the United States objected strenuously to the inclusion of Iran and led the campaign that saw a very late 11th entry, Timor-Leste (East Timor-independent from Indonesia since 2002) win a place over Iran. The 54 voting nations, members of the UN Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC) gave 50 or more votes to each of the other 9 countries proposed by the Asia Group: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, and South Korea. Timor-Leste received 36 votes, while Iran received only 19.

Of the governing board's 41 seats, 35 are voted on by UN ECOSOC member countries from slates presented by the different world's regions for their allotted number; and, 6 are reserved for donor nations, "Contributing Countries". Saudi Arabia was unopposed in its bid for one of the donor nation seats.

Executive Board of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women):

Africa (10)
Cape Verde, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Lesotho, Libya, Nigeria, Tanzania

Asia (10)
Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Timor-Leste

Eastern Europe (4)
Estonia, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine

Latin America and the Caribbean (6)
Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Peru

Western Europe and Other States(5)
Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden

Contributing Countries (6)
Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, United Kingdom, United States

Contributing countries serve 3 year terms; whereas, elected ones serve 2 or 3 years, depending on the results of a drawing of lots.

Serving 2 years are: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, El Salvador, Estonia, France, India, Italy, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Tanzania and Timor-Leste.

Serving 3 years are: Angola, Cape Verde, China, Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Grenada, Hungary, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Nigeria, Peru, Republic of Korea, Sweden and Ukraine.

Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet heads the UN Women agency with a budget of more than twice its antecedent agencies combined. Its goals include:

-to support the Commission on the Status of Women and other inter-governmental bodies in devising policies;
-to help Member States implement standards;
-to provide technical and financial support to countries which request it;
-to forge partnerships with civil society;
-to hold the UN accountable for its own commitments to gender equality.

The Gender Inequality Index (GII) ranking of the countries forming this first Executive Board of UN Women range from: Denmark 2 and Sweden 3, to the Côte d’Ivoire 130 and DRC (Congo) 137. The 2 Arab member countries' rankings are Libya 52, and Saudi Arabia 128. The other Muslim majority member countries rank: Malaysia 50, Khazakstan 67, Indonesia 100, Pakistan 112, Bangladesh 116.

Timor-Leste (predominantly Catholic) is unranked on the GII because the numbers for educational attainment are unavailable. However, based on its numbers in the other contributing indices its ranking would be low. Most significantly, its scores on reproductive heath, the greatest predictor of overall inequality are low: only 10% have access to contraceptives, only 19% of births have a professional attendant. The maternal mortality ratio (380) and adolescent fertility rate (53.8) are relatively high. It is 120 on the HDI (at the lower end of the Medium Development category), another indicator of a lower ranking on the GII.

Obviously, the current state of women's rights or gender equality in a country were not the primary criteria in creating the first Executive Board of UN Women. Regional representation, as determined by the regions themselves, then voted on by the 54 UN ECOSOC member states, and financial contributions were. No doubt there was politicking within the slates of nominees presented by the different regions, and in the the lobbying and voting for Timor-Leste. Probably the money came with politicking too.

The US has more concerns about Iran than its abuses of women's rights--mainly geo-political ones, including nuclear capacity, foreign policy, and its attitudes towards Israel in particular. Although the sentencing to death by stoning for the alleged adultery and maritricide of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, has been rightfully the subject of an international women's human rights campaign, in this sense it was a case of fortuitous timing for the USA's campaign against Iran as part of the governing board of UN Women.

Iran ranks better overall on the GII, at 98, than a number of the elected Executive Board countries. Specifically, it ranks better than all the African countries except Libya 52; and, than the Asian countries of Indonesia 100, Pakistan 112, Bangladesh 116, India 122.

On reading about the UN Women Executive Board voting, I initially had the same reflex reaction as others, that countries with poor records regarding women's rights and empowerment made for dubious governing body members. In the course of detailing this post, I have changed my mind.

If the countries with the best records, as judged by the UN's own Gender Inequality Index, filled all 41, or even all 35 elected seats on the Executive Board, they would be predominantly wealthy nations, mostly Western and European, with Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and China representing Asia.

# 1-10: Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Italy, Singapore;
#11-20: France, Japan, Iceland, Spain, Cyprus, Canada, Slovenia, Australia, Austria, S. Korea;
#21-29: Portugal, Latvia, Greece, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Poland, Czech Republic, Israel, Ireland;
#30-41: Croatia, Slovakia, UK, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Bulgaria, USA, China, Estonia, Moldova, Russia.

At #32 and #37, the UK and USA would just make the cut. At #68 and #128, 2 of the donor countries, Mexico and Saudi Arabia respectively, wouldn't.

Israel, arguably a European country in the Levant, would be the only MENA country. There would be no Arab, or Muslim majority countries; no South Asian, or Hindu majority countries (India, Nepal, Mauritius, the island of Bali within the country of Indonesia); and, no Latin American countries, arguably the most Catholic of the Catholic majority countries. There would be no poor, or Third World countries.

Former Imperial countries--UK, France, Russia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, China, Japan--would be dictating to former colonies across Eastern Europe; subSaharan Africa; Central, South, and Southeast Asia; MENA; and Latin America. The USA, thought by some to be neo-colonialist, would also be preaching to various former and current puppet countries, banana republics, oil republics, financial dependents, cultural colonies, etc.

For these reasons, it now seems to me better to have countries on the UN Women Executive Board that are more representative of the world, including high population countries, and ones with poor records of women's empowerment. What their representatives do at, and through, the UN Women agency is more important, which is how they should ultimately be judged.

Who better to know what the issues are of the women in their countries, and how to effect change there than progressive, feminist representatives of each of these gender equality challenged countries from gender equality challenged regions? The caveats are: progressive, feminist representatives who are empowered by their leaders (currently mostly men) in their home countries; a genuine desire for change; and a genuine commitment to and realization of its implementation.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
Who would you vote off or on the Executive Board?
Was this all "politics as usual"?

Related Post
UN Gender Inequality Index: Squandering Human Resources

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