The picture everyone is talking about: could this picture of Saudi King Abdullah surrounded by women be the start of a new era? (Photo courtesy of Guardian)
It may seem like a small thing, but this picture has been a subject on the lips of many since it was taken last week at a conference on health and the community. Why? Because it shows Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan posing with a group of women who are (mostly) showing their faces and are unrelated to the men. This may not matter much in many other countries, but in Saudi Arabia, this photo is groundbreaking.
By law, unrelated men and women are usually kept strictly segregated and women are expected to be covered from head to toe at all times. So for the King to allow himself to be in this photograph is of huge symbolic importance. Reform, particularly in the arena of women’s rights, has long been on the agenda in Saudi Arabia, but has also long been the subject of intense controversy.
Many have hailed this photo as a major step in the government beginning to recognise further equality between men and women, and the levels of criticism King Abdullah has received from religious hard-liners for the picture show just how seriously this one picture is being taken. But will it actually lead to anything? We can only hope that this picture will actually lead to a thousand words (and more!) being spoken on this issue…
Iran has recently been rejected for a spot on the Human Rights Council of the UN. And rightly so. Its dismal human rights record of late means that putting it on such a council would be like putting someone who can’t read in charge of a library. Which makes it even more ridiculous then, that on Wednesday this week, Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women(CSW) in exchange for giving up its bid to sit on the Human Rights Council. What?!
It’s not so much that the CSW is particularly useful. After all, it has only ever issued one resolution and it was against Israel of all places. The problem is more the symbolism of the action: yet again women’s rights have been sold down the river for the sake of a political bargain. Since when were seats on UN committees something to be bartered for? And since when did the UN start allowing countries that stand for the exact opposite of the CSW to sit on it? The current Iranian government is doing its level best to destroy thirty years of progressive development in the Women’s Rights realm. It has banned women from certain departments in universities, segregated healthcare, leading to a severe shortage in female doctors for women, shut down childcare centres (making it even more difficult for women to work outside the home) and even begun dictating exactly what women may or may not wear in their public and private lives. Not to mention the ‘Boobquake’ saga of last week, when an Iranian cleric blamed the world’s earthquakes on female immodesty!
Allowing such a terrible example onto a Commission, especially in the manner in which it was done, is a terrible reflection on the UN and will certainly not make life any easier for a Commission that already struggles more than more to have its concerns taken seriously. Fabulous.