Thursday, May 4, 2017

Rita Panahi: Saudi Arabia has no place on United Nations Women’s Commission

Rita Panahi: Saudi Arabia has no place on United Nations Women’s Commission

Rita Panahi calls Saudi Arabia a “rancid stain on humanity”.

“It may be 2017 in the civilised world but the Saudis continue to conduct their affairs with a backward brutality that’s reminiscent of the Dark Ages.”

Rita Panahi, Herald Sun
Why are Saudis on UN Women’s Commission?
SAUDI Arabia is a rancid stain on humanity and has no business sitting on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

It’s preposterous that a country that beheads people with the same gusto as Islamic State for “crimes” such as atheism, apostasy, blasphemy, idolatry, sodomy and sorcery, as well as condemning millions of women to a miserable existence as subservient slaves, is lecturing the world on human rights.

Now, in a move that marks the UN as beyond parody, the Saudis have been elected to a body charged with advancing the rights of women. It’s akin to selecting a known paedophile to run the police’s child safety unit.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of an analogy that is as farcical as the despot kingdom being elected to the UN Women’s Commission which is “exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”.

It may be 2017 in the civilised world but the Saudis continue to conduct their affairs with a backward brutality that’s reminiscent of the Dark Ages.
Saudi women get into the backseat of a car. Picture: AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine
Women are treated as worse than second-class citizens from the cradle to the grave in a country where the legal system is based on medieval religious texts.

Sharia or Islamic law is used to subjugate women in every facet of life with a form of institutionalised discrimination that is unrelenting.

Saudi Arabia’s gender-based laws and customs are among the harshest in the world. It is the only country where women are not allowed to drive because it will apparently “corrupt society” and even lead to the female driver’s ovaries malfunctioning.


Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan explained in an interview in 2013 why allowing women behind the wheel was deeply problematic: “If a woman drives a car … that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards

“That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”

More recently, Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh has said that permitting women to drive was a “dangerous matter that should not be permitted” and that driving would “expose women to evil”.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has done little to improve the kingdom’s human rights record.
There was much hype in 2011 when King Abdullah granted Saudi women the right to vote — only in municipal elections — but the reality is that these newly “empowered” ladies still cannot drive themselves to the polling booth nor leave the house without the permission or supervision of a male guardian.

The archaic restrictions placed on women include how they dress, whom they associate with and even how they seek medical advice. Forced to wear dehumanising niqabs, burqas or, if they’re lucky, hijabs in the desert heat, women are not allowed to socialise with the opposite sex or show their beauty.

The male guardianship system sees adult women treated as children who must seek permission from male family members to obtain a passport, access medical care, study, work and marry.

King Salman, who took the throne in 2015 after the death of his half-brother, has thus far done little to improve the kingdom’s human rights record.

The Saudis embrace a strict brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism and use their enormous wealth to export that abhorrent ideology to the world.
Protesters demonstrate outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Canberra over the execution of Shia sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. Picture: Ray Strange
Their money buys influence among academics, politicians and activists. It also sees them proudly sitting on the UNHRC and now the UN Women’s Commission, but their riches should not make them immune from criticism and sanctions.

Saudi Arabia’s disdain for decency and equality is not restricted to the treatment of women; they also persecute non-Muslims, which in Saudi eyes include Shiite Muslims, with religious intolerance enshrined in law.


There has been much conjecture in the past two weeks about which 47 countries, out of the 54 on the UN economic and social council, voted for Saudi Arabia to be admitted to a group supposedly dedicated to protecting and advancing women’s rights.

It is believed that five European countries voted for the Saudis in the secret ballot.

Late last week, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel confirmed Belgium had voted for the Saudis and apologised for his country’s support for a regime that systematically and brutally oppresses women.

Sadly, not many Western feminists are too interested in the gender apartheid that exists in the Muslim world and the plight of Saudi women isn’t considered a priority for activists who’d rather be campaigning against gendered toys and pronouns.

Rita Panahi is a Herald Sun columnist.

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