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Iran, Saudi Arabia expected to join new U.N. agency on women

Some activists express skepticism given the two countries' poor record on women's rights.

October 31, 2010|By Meris Lutz, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Beirut — Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have been criticized for their records on women's rights, are on track to join the board of a new U.N. agency devoted to women.

Activists have expressed concern that the two Islamic states could interfere with the work of the agency, U.N. Women.

"We are hopeful that Iran or Saudi Arabia would not be able to significantly obstruct the work of U.N. Women," said Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "There are certainly other countries we have concerns with, but Saudi Arabia and Iran have such dismal records on women's rights that their presence on the board would be seen as provocative by many women around the world."

Fatemeh Fakhraei, the editor of the U.S.-based Muslimah Media Watch, expressed similar concerns.

"It's important to have representatives from the Middle Eastern region on this board, but it's equally important to have representatives who are genuinely committed to improving women's rights," she wrote.

When the U.N. announced in July that it would combine four women's rights agencies into a single powerful body, it was hailed as a major victory for gender-equality activists worldwide.

Of the 41-member executive board, 35 members are selected from regional lists and six represent donor nations. Iran is reportedly included on a list of 10 Asian countries to be represented, and Saudi Arabia has reportedly been nominated for a donor seat. Both are expected to be elected without contest Nov. 10.

Lutz is a special correspondent.

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