UN draws fire after electing Somalia, Congo to women’s rights boards

The United Nations has elected Somalia  to board charged with promoting those rights — leading one critic to compare the decision to “asking the fox to guard the chickens.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lebanon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone were among those elected by the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to the Executive Board of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (U.N. Women), while Somalia was among those elected to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

The Executive Board governs U.N. Women’s operational activities, approves its programs and activities, and decides the budgets and financial plans of the body. The Commission on the Status of Women, meanwhile, is tasked with “the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” according to its website.
“The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women,” the website says.
While numerous other countries such as Germany and New Zealand were also elected to terms on these panels, the presence of nations with poor women’s rights records is likely to raise questions.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report placed Congo at 144th out of 147 countries it monitored. Lebanon was 140th, Nigeria was 133rd and Sierra Leone was 114th.

The U.N. Women’s website itself gives some damning summaries of those countries that have been elected. It notes that “the women of Somalia bear an unequal brunt of the hardships occasioned by poverty, conflict and clan-based culture which promotes strict male hierarchy and authority.”
“Somalia has extremely high rates of maternal mortality, rape, cases of female genital mutilation, violence against women and child marriage,” the U.N. Women’s website says. “Women’s access to justice is restricted both within the formal, clan based and sharia-based judicial systems. Women face limited access to economic resources and assets. This is compounded by women’s low participation in politics and decision making spheres.”
“Violence against women and girls remains high in Somalia with displaced women and girls targeted. Somalia also has a history of violent attacks on women leaders, women who speak out against gender-based violence and the men and women who defend them,” it says.