ANALYSIS: Elizabeth Samson – Jewish activists protest appointment of Iran to UN Commission on Status of Women
(The following article, authored by Elizabeth Samson, a member of the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps and a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, was first published by the ‘Jewish Week’ of New York on 24 March 2011).
Every year since 1917 the month of March has been dedicated to women around the world. 8 March is International Women’s Day, and since 1946 the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – the principal global policy-making body that promotes gender equality – convenes during the month to evaluate progress, identify challenges, and formulate concrete policies to further the global advancement of women.
But this year’s 55th session of the CSW, which ended on 4 March, was marred by the outrageous ascension of Iran to the CSW board where it will serve a four-year term. One of the world’s most egregious violators of women’s rights, Iran is a country in which a woman does not have the right to an equitable inheritance, to custody of her own children, or to divorce her husband. In addition, an Iranian man is legally permitted to execute an unfaithful wife.
Spearheading protests against Iran’s election was the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps (WJDC) – a non-profit entity founded with the purpose of cultivating a new generation of Jewish diplomatic leadership. Recognizing the fact that women’s rights as human rights are harmonious with Jewish values, the WJDC saw the opportunity to raise awareness about the plight of Iranian women. So, for the occasion of the CSW’s 55th session, the WJDC coordinated the establishment of a coalition of 12 non-profit organizations that have been highly active on human rights and women’s rights, particularly with respect to Iran, to lend its collective voice to the dissent.
The Iran 2011: All Rights Reserved coalition held two events on 3 March at the UN – a panel discussion with international experts entitled “Securing Gender Equality: Iran and the CSW” and a subsequent rally near the UN Plaza – to parallel the activities of the CSW. In addition, Jewish Diplomats (JD’s) had meetings with several missions to the UN – Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, and the United States – to discuss ways in which to attenuate Iranian influence on the CSW.
Jewish tradition has long celebrated strong women. And so, it is both ironic and notable that in the month of March, which was Adar II this year, we celebrated the Jewish queen Esther of Persia (now Iran) for her role in helping to save the Jewish people the evil viceroy who sought to destroy them.
Iran today – with its modern-day Haman, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of the state of Israel – is a country that treats women like second class citizens, murders homosexuals, and silences all opposing viewpoints. But, there is recourse available to stanch the evil, violence, and hatred that Ahmadinejad spreads because the community of nations is under no obligation to keep Iran within its ranks at the UN.
Pursuant to the UN Charter, Chapter II, upon recommendation of the Security Council to the General Assembly, a state may be “suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership” or expelled if it has “persistently violated” the principles of the Charter.
As we have seen most recently with Libya’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the UN member states banded together to remove Libya from the HRC because Qaddafi’s regime has been so publically, flagrantly and brutally violating the human rights of its own citizens.
Since the Iranian regime’s violations of the rights of its female citizens goes against the very spirit of the CSW, it is entirely plausible to suspend Iran from the Commission as there is a mechanism in place for removal of states who so openly flout the principles of the UN Charter. However, it is only through the strength and the will of the international community that change may be able to take root. It remains the responsibility of civil society, exemplified through the social activism of organizations such as the WJDC and the women’s rights coalition it created, to continue to inform governments and the public of the need to punish through suspension, and not reward through election, countries whose actions are offensive to human dignity and violate the spirit of the United Nations.
With respect to Iran and the CSW, the WJDC has demonstrated that Jewish values are really universal values and that, as Jewish people, it is important to fight against injustice in any corner of the world. And, perhaps through activism and hard work, one day Iran will rise up once again and take its place as a defender of its people as Persia did so many centuries ago.
(For more like this, please visit www.worldjewishcongress.org)