UN promotes women's rights

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: Innocent civilians often get caught up in the fighting in places such as Iraq, and in many cases it's women who bear the brunt of it. But violence against women extends far beyond war zones. A new agency at the United Nations aims to help promote equality and women's rights. There are 41 nations represented on the U.N. Economic and Social Council and you may be surprised by some of them: Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Congo. Iran didn't make the cut. Phillippe Bolopion is U.N. Advocacy Director for Human Right Watch. He says some of the countries on this board have questionable records regarding women's rights.

Phillippe Bolopion: There are undoubtedly shocking levels of violence, including sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have also very serious issues with Libya where for example, women can be arbitrarily arrested for having had sex outside of marriage. And in Saudi Arabia as just one of the most repressive legal systems against women, women cannot make any important decisions in their lives without the authorization of the male member of their families. So there is no doubt that these countries have very serious problems to address.

Mullins: Well, given all those problems, how did these countries even get on this particular board?

Bolopion: What has allowed some of these countries to be on the board is that you know, they got the votes of other countries. For Saudi Arabia it's the simple fact that Saudi Arabia has been able to give some money to the U.N. system and got this seat not because of the election, but because it's a donor country and there are seats reserved for countries who give money. And there were a number of seats alloted by region. And for Asia, and Iran belongs to the Asia group of the U.N., there were 11 candidates for 10 seats, and that's why Iran lost in the end.

Mullins: Why would a country where women are still stoned to death even want to sit on a board that's supposed to be advocating on behalf of women?

Bolopion: I would agree that it's hard not to question the motives of Iran and this. I mean, they sit on many boards of human agencies. Sometimes they have a very low key approach. But our concern was that given the fact that they are really, they have shown time and again that they work against the very objectives that U.N. women was created to promote, that they advocacy was in a way problematic probably even provocative for women around the world because Iran unfortunately has become a symbol of oppression for women.

Mullins: So for Human Rights Watch what does this tell you about how the U.N. is functioning particular for boards that have a specific mandate like this one?

Bolopion: Well, I would say that the U.N. is a states' organization and the states of the world do not all have a perfect record, especially when it comes to women's rights or human rights in general. The U.N. shows the world the way it is not the way it should be. And in some instances you know, it's fine to have [inaudible 3:10 on the board of U.N. women. Some countries were not exemplary in terms of women's rights, you want them around the table, you want them to engage in these issues, you want them to make some progress. It's fine not to be perfect on women's rights to stand on the board of U.N. women, but you feel so bad that you have become a symbol around the world of repression for women, then you should definitely not be on the board.

Mullins: Right, thank you very much, Phillippe Bolopion, U.N. Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. Thank you very much.

Bolopion: Thank you.