Iran added another mark of shame to its national image when it recently failed to get a seat on the executive board of UN Women, a newly formed UN agency for gender equality and women’s rights. This is the second time this year that Iran has been denied a place in a human rights organization. In April Iran withdrew its bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, presumably due to pressure exerted by liberal UN members who saw the utter ridiculousness of having an egregiously human rights-abusing nation like Iran on the council.
Now those members, which include Australia, Canada, the US and other Western governments, have succeeded in thwarting Iran’s latest attempt at acquiring moral legitimacy. No doubt the global uproar over Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s mistreatment by the Iranian judiciary has played a part in galvanizing efforts to block Iran’s inclusion in the UN Women board.
But this is an incomplete victory for women’s rights. Saudi Arabia, no respecter of women’s equality, has secured a seat on the board. Cynics say – perhaps with some justification – that Saudi Arabia got a seat only because of its financial clout. The fact that Iran was refused admission while Saudi Arabia got a pass makes a mockery of UN Women’s aims and casts doubt on the UN’s integrity. Irshad Manji excoriates the UN for what she calls the “deeper corruption among power players” within the international body, which is full of “hypocrisy, absurdity and indignity”. Meanwhile Sarah Boseley asks whether shutting out Iran from the UN’s fledgling agency would “help – or hinder – change in Iran”.
Critics and doubters have valid reasons for their ire and skepticism, respectively. But the perfect is the enemy of the good, as Voltaire believed. While it is certainly a disappointment that Saudi Arabia was elected to the UN Women board, it is definitely a good thing that Iran was not.