During the course making my movie U.N.Me (www.theunmovie.com) I have come across countless acts of absurd behavior by the U.N. This week gives us yet another shining example of such farce. The United Nations recently held an election for its new women’s rights group called, unimaginatively, U.N. Women, which was born from the merger of four other U.N. groups dedicated to women’s rights. (Perhaps the real story should be that the famously turgid bureaucracy of the U.N actually slimmed something down).
While many cheered the creation of this new group, assumed to be more efficient and effective than its predecessors, I have taken to pronouncing the group’s name as “Un-women” since that more accurately reflects who will benefit from the leadership of this new body: not the women they were supposed to protect but the leaders and governing bodies of countries that ignore the rights of women. But let’s start from the beginning. Some months ago, there was a heap of controversy in the lead-up to this group’s elections because Iran seemed destined to win a seat on its board. Yet, when the final scores were tallied, a surprise late entry by East Timor diplaced Iran’s bid for a seat. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the results, saying, “we’ve made no secret that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board … and we think it was a very good outcome today.”
Perhaps Ambassador Rice failed to keep reading the press release. If she did, she would have noticed that Saudi Arabia now presides over U.N. Women. That country is not exactly famous for being an egalitarian Mecca (yes, pun intended) of women’s rights. In fact the gender-apartheid kingdom’s record is so bad it is difficult to find a place to begin to describe it. I think that the case of “The Girl of Qatif,” accurately and nauseatingly exemplifies the plight of women in that country.
“The Girl of Qatif” was a newlywed with a big problem. A man, who was not her husband, possessed a photograph of her which she needed returned to ensure her safety. To retrieve the photo, she surreptitiously met him in his car, since unmarried women are not allowed to be alone with men. A band of seven thugs saw them together, dragged them out of the car at knife point and then gang raped them both. The Saudi authorities were quick to react to the incident and immediately arrested “The Girl of Qatif” and charged her with being alone with another man, and, referring to the gang rape, having sex outside of marriage. She was sentenced to jail and 200 lashes.