The UN’s Economic and Social Council voted Saudi Arabia into the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this week, sparking criticism from several human rights groups.

While CSW aims to promote “gender equality and the empowerment of women,” reports of domestic violence continue to rise in Saudi Arabia, where women live under the legal supervision of a “male guardian.”

Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry said its courts received 1,498 domestic violence cases during the past Islamic calendar [sic] year with Makkah region registering 480 cases including torture of wives and children and abuse of one of the parents. There were 15 cases in which brothers were found to be guilty of torturing their sisters. (Al Arabiya)

The oil export giant has enjoyed some remarkably liberal UN admission policies in recent years. Saudi Arabia was also elected for inclusion in various other programs aimed at promoting equality, including the Human Rights Council.

The vote to the elect Saudi Arabia to the CSW, supported by three European countries and 47 of 54 states, was cast by secret ballot. HRW and other organizations have responded by arguing that despite marginal improvements in recent years, male guardianship policies continue to be a significant impediment to women’s rights.

Belgium was among the European countries to support the CSW decision, but Prime Minister Charles Michel voiced his dissent to parliament, noting that the vote was a mistake that arose from a rushed decision-making process. Michel said that he would have argued against the vote if Belgium had been given a chance to hold a proper discussion at government level in Brussels. “I of course would have argued that we not approve this,” he said, adding, “I regret the vote.”

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, according to the World Bank, and forbids women from driving cars.

 

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