On October 24 the world will celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. As we near this anniversary it is important to revisit the key missions of the United Nations, which centers around finding solutions to critical global challenges.
In 2010 the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) concluded with the adoption of a global action plan, which laid out Eight Millennium Development Goals, ranging from extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/Aids. Another one of the goals that has many ties to the rest is MDG 3, which focuses on Gender Equality. Achieving equal rights for women and girls is a big focus on the global stage currently, and recent headline news reflects this.
Islamic states, Saudi Arabia and Iran have all recently been criticized for their records with women’s rights. In the recent UN Watch Testimony to UN Human Rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia were listed as countries where women are deprived of their human rights.
The legal system of The Islamic Republic of Iran discriminates against women. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot drive and women are denied the right to vote and be elected to high political positions. Women, who don’t have the right to drive, however may gain the right to vote.
Recently, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced women will have the right to vote in local elections in 2015 and become members of the advisory Shura council. Two days after this announcement a court sentenced a woman to 10 whiplashes for violating the kingdom’s religious rules prohibiting women from driving. Usually police stop female drivers, and after they have them sign a pledge not to drive anymore, let them go. This is the first time when legal punishment has been ordered for the violation of driving ban in Saudi Arabia. The court acted after a women’s campaign launched on Facebook and Twitter emboldened by the Arab Spring that inspired women to get behind the wheel and drive. These contradictions are the results of an endless fight between the country’s conservatives and those who want to improve women’s situation.
The issue recalls a long time fight that still continues in Afghanistan. In 1928 King Amanulah and his wife introduced new reforms, which included: the abolition of burqa, mixed schools for boys and girls, and the country’s mullahs. Later, the country’s conservatives and mujahideen began attacking the government. Presently, the country’s conservatives continue rising up against reforms – which would give basic human rights to women in Afghanistan.
The presence of women in Afghan parliament is a show of democracy. In fact, women holding high-ranking political positions do not have the authorities provided by their positions. Women struggle to play a significant political role and they are continually excluded from peace and security processes as well as solving important issues. The most members of the parliament are warlords, the ethnic militias who fought against each other from 1992 to 1996, killing thousands of civilians. Human Rights Watch published a report called “Blood stained Hand” which referred to warlords as “the world’s most serious human rights offenders.”
Now the Afghan government is willing to sacrifice women’s rights in order to compromise with Taliban. According to Oxfam – women’s rights are at risk in Afghanistan. When the international troops withdraw, the government will continue its peace negotiations with Taliban, which will deprive women from some of their basic human rights, which they have regained in the past 10 years with the opening of schools for girls. The spread of insurgency, violence and a corrupted government have left, and will continue to lead, people with no hope of peace.
In Saudi Arabia, the voting rights itself can be a show. The country’s political system is not different from totalitarian regimes that have been overthrown by the Arab Spring revolution. Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz who united the country under his family’s rule. After his death in 1953 the political power has been in the hands of the royal family and thousands of its princes. For centuries the country has been isolated from the rest of the world and censored by the ruling monarchy. Now, through modern technologies, especially social media, people started have begun to realize that Islam has been used to impose the dynasty’s rules and to exploit the nation’s people.
The conversation about women’s rights in the Middle East, and throughout the entire globe, is an important one that we need to continue having. Our Women’s Forum focuses on many of these issues and will likely have some events coming up in the spring around women in the Middle East in particular so stay tuned!
In the near time, you can come celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations with UNA-GB and help us keep the conversation going. One direct way to do this is to help support the next generation of global leaders learn about these important issues, with the UN Day Model UN mini-simulation at the Massachusetts State House on October 24 -where middle and high school students will debate Gender Inequality focusing on women’s education and employment opportunities worldwide. You can also hear a powerful UN advocate and female leader, Gillian Sorensen speak at our annual UN Day Luncheon on October 28. Tickets are on sale now!
Also, if you are more interested in focusing specifically on women’s equality join our Women’s Forum and come to our many interesting events held throughout the year!
Happy 4th of July to all! As we celebrate the independence of our country on this day and the freedoms we are thankful for, we would like to take a closer look at the road towards independence for other countries around the world. News headlines the past few months have been dominated by the strive for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Here’s our second blog post from our newest blog series–Get Educated, One Topic At A Time featured every Monday, whose focus today is on this year’s “Arab Spring” from start to present! And speaking of emerging democracies, stay tuned for a blog post later on this week in honor of Southern Sudan’s official independence on July 9th!
While the term, “Arab Spring” is one of some contention, there can be no denying that there is a major change happening in the Middle East and North Africa. Said by some to be as important, if not moreso to world history than the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “Arab Spring” has significantly changed the political atmosphere both within the region and around the world. Beginning when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian college graduate who was selling vegetables from a cart because of the high rates of unemployment there, set himself on fire on the steps of parliament after corrupt police confiscated his wares, the resulting protests soon spread from Morocco to Iran. On January 14, 2011, President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, becoming the first dictator to be ousted as a result of the “Arab Spring.”
Protests soon spread to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was the next to step down after three decades in power. The demonstrations were centered in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, Egypt’s capital city. Thousands of people stayed in the square for eighteen days amid attempts by the government to placate the crowd with small concessions and violent attacks by forces loyal to Mubarak. The Egyptian people persevered, however, and are now, hopefully, on their way to free and fair democracy.
Today, movements have sprung up in almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa, from small scale peaceful demonstrations for social and political reforms like in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to outright bloody conflict and civil war like in Syria and Libya.
The United Nations has not become directly involved in any country yet, though it has issued several statements expressing deep concern over the human rights abuses that are taking place. The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “resort[ing] to lethal or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators not only violates fundamental rights, including the right to life, but serves to exacerbate tensions and tends to breed a culture of violence.” The UN Security Council has also given its support to the NATO mission in Libya, and we will likely see further discussion in other UN bodies as the “Arab Spring” continues.
As the rest of the world scrambles to adjust to the rapidly changing political climate, the people of the Middle East and North Africa continue to stand up for their rights in a region that previously represented the only part of the world virtually devoid of democratic governments. There is still a lot of hard work ahead for the reformers and nation builders of the “Arab Spring,” but they have taken a revolutionary first step on the road to democracy and freedom.
To keep up with the journey as it continues, follow the Guardian’s “Path of Protest”.