Saudi Arabia, Lagging on Women’s Rights, Is to Lead U.N. Women’s Forum

Saudi Arabia won an uncontested bid to lead a United Nations body dedicated to women’s rights for the 2025 session, bringing condemnation from human rights groups that argued that the kingdom had an “abysmal” record on women’s empowerment.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.N., Abdulaziz Alwasil, was elected chairman of the Commission on the Status of Women, a U.N. body whose aim is to protect and promote women’s rights around the world.

The Saudi state news agency wrote that the country’s new chairmanship “confirmed its interest in cooperating with the international community to strengthen women’s rights and empowerment” and highlighted strides the country had made toward greater social and economic freedom for women.

But the decision drew scathing criticism from human rights groups. Amnesty International’s deputy director for advocacy, Sherine Tadros, said in a statement that Saudi Arabia had an “abysmal record when it comes to protecting and promoting the rights of women.” She argued that there was a “vast gulf” between the U.N. commission’s aspirations and the “lived reality for women and girls in Saudi Arabia.”

The commission, established in 1946, has 45 members that are selected based on geographic quotas. No vetting process is required for a country to be elected to the commission, and there is also no requirement that it meet certain standards of gender rights to join.

Saudi Arabia had been expected to win the chairmanship, which typically lasts two years, and its bid was reported to have drawn no dissent from other member states.

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