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How can Saudi Arabia be elected to a UN women’s rights commission?

Saudi Arabia

Above: Manal al-Sharif is a women's rights activist from Saudi Arabia who helped start a women's right to drive campaign in 2011.

It’s no joke that the country could even be considered for a position to uphold women’s rights, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

Newspaper headlines this week tell us that Saudi Arabia has been elected to a UN women’s rights commission. No, you read that right. This is not a joke.

Hillel Neuer, Director of UN Watch has quite reasonably pointed out that electing this misogynistic, ultra conservative, uber patriarchal country to be on panels to safeguard women’s rights, is akin to 'making an arsonist into the town fire chief.'

Having visited the country, I know. The Saudi kingdom bans women from driving cars. Women are not allowed to travel outside their homes except with a close male relative as an escort.

'Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian who makes all critical decisions on her behalf, controlling a woman’s life from her birth until death,' Hillel Neur further informs the world.

The UN has seldom covered itself in glory, but this particular charade is one of the more revolting pieces of politicking to appear on our breaking news stories. Without batting an eyelid, Helen Clark former administrator of the UN Development Programme and Prime Minister of New Zealand, announces that things in the Saudi Arabian kingdom are changing slowly. I'm sure the women in Saudi Arabia will corroborate that fact. The rest of the globe is naturally, as outraged as Mr Neuer.

If you carry any religious book besides the Koran into the kingdom, the guards at the airport will confiscate and tear up your Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Parsi holy texts and teachings. They throw these into the trash in front of the bewildered foreigner visitors' eyes. But, as The Independent reminds us, Saudi Arabia already sits on the UN Human Rights Council. It makes me want to puke.

Comments to the Independent article dubbed it a sick, sick joke. Another reader points out that we sold our souls for their money and their oil. But Ms.Clark warmly assures us that the Saudi government needs encouragement.

This leads logically to another announcement which shocked the world. The day news channels informed us that then president Barack Obama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Cynics laughed. Human Rights defenders from every corner of the planet expressed outrage. Obama said he didn’t know why they gave it to him. Neither did anyone else really. The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart called it a 'farce', while the inimitable Noam Chomsky wrote, 'In defence of the committee, we might say that the achievement of doing nothing to advance peace places Obama on a considerably higher moral plane than some of the earlier recipients.'

Before completing his term and just a few years after being dubbed the ‘Peace Prize President’, albeit with tongue in cheek, Obama had escalated war efforts in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Obama presided over the first US air strikes against Syria in 2014. Indeed he earned the distinction of being the only Peace President to bomb seven countries in six years, which is something of a record.

Ordinary people, ordinary voters, are sick of the hypocrisy foisted on them. It’s a global phenomenon. Most people want an ordinary decent life. They are fed up of leaders who have consistently failed them. They definitely don't want more of the same. But the options are terrible. They're choosing what they perceive as the best of a pretty rotten lot. It’s a dismal scenario. But when the world's most lauded institutions hand out a dirty, despicable deal and get away with it, what's left except anger and desperation?

And that seems to be all that’s left today.

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