3 Problems with the Commission on the Status of Women
Elects misogynistic regimes to leadership positions. For example, in March 2019, Iran—a regime that tortures women’s rights defenders and arrests women who fail to comply with its forced hijab law—was elected to CSW’s Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women, a body that judges complaints of women’s rights violations. Also, in March 2019, Iraq—the third worst country in the world on the global gender equality ranking (147/149)—was elected Vice Chair of CSW, a position that contributes to setting the agency’s agenda. In 2020-2021, Algeria served as Vice-Chair.
Turns a blind eye to the world’s worst abusers. The CSW meets every year and has a unique opportunity to hold country violators of women’s rights to account. Yet instead, it systematically ignores them. For example:
- The CSW has never adopted a single resolution on Saudi Arabia, which, notwithstanding recent limited reforms, subjugates women through its male guardianship system and jails and tortures women’s rights activists.
- The CSW has never adopted a single resolution on Yemen, which ranks at the bottom of the gender equality index (153/153) and where child marriage is pervasive with more than two thirds of girls being married off before age 18.
- The CSW has never adopted a single resolution on the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been dubbed the “rape capital of the world.”
- The CSW has never adopted a single resolution on Pakistan, where violence against women is on the rise and conviction rates are low—between 2011 and 2017 over 51,000 cases of domestic violence were reported.
- The CSW has never adopted a single resolution on Iran, where women suffer discrimination under the law in key areas such as marriage, family law, age of criminal responsibility, inheritance, and court testimony. The CSW gives a free pass to Iran for its misogynistic modesty laws, under which women are routinely arrested and sentenced to harsh punishments. If a Muslim woman is found in a relationship with a non-Muslim man, she may be sentenced to be whipped. Women have been sent to jail for speaking out in favor of equal rights for women.
In fact, CSW squanders a golden opportunity to demand accountability and compliance and gives a free pass on the world’s worst abusers of human rights. Instead, it adopts resolutions on general thematic issues joined by all CSW members, including these abusers to the extent they are members. For example, in 2018 CSW members joined in resolutions condemning torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women in the context of hostage-taking in armed conflicts; acknowledging the need to “accelerate the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” In 2021, CSW members reaffirmed “the commitments to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls made at relevant United Nations summits and conferences,” among other things.
Condemns only one country in the world annually—Israel.
- CSW treats the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian conflict as a women’s rights issue, when it is actually a geopolitical and military conflict.
- Until 2018, CSW adopted an annual resolution targeting Israel which was then voted on again by the ECOSOC plenary. Since 2019, the resolution has been voted on only by the ECOSOC plenary. The resolution complains about the “grave situation of Palestinian women” resulting from “the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation,” but then lists a number of alleged Israeli violations that affect the Palestinian population as a whole. Similarly, the resolution treats Israel’s security and self-defense measures as attacks on Palestinian women, when in fact these are lawful responses to Palestinian terrorism.
- The resolution ignores serious Palestinian violations of women’s rights, including honor killings, rape, child marriage, and other violence exacerbated by the traditional culture and lack of, or insufficient, legislation protecting women. Palestinian women’s rights groups documented 23 honor killings in 2018. According to a recent study, in 2019 29% of Palestinian women experienced psychological, physical, sexual, social or economic violence by their husbands (38% in Gaza and 24% in the West Bank). Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have broadcast Imams advising male viewers how to beat their wives in accordance with the Quran.
- CSW’s failure to address these Palestinian violations while blaming Israel for the suffering of Palestinian women is part of larger narrative at the UN asserting there is a “clear linkage” between “the prolonged occupation and violence against women.” This is a complete distortion and is not based on any data.
- That Israel would be the only country to be condemned is ironic given that it is the only country in the Middle East where women have full equality. Israel is one of the first countries in the world with a woman as prime minister—Golda Meir, from 1969 to 1974. Women in Israel serve as lawmakers in the Knesset and as cabinet ministers. No less than three chief justices of the Supreme Court have been women.
- Meanwhile, countries that voted for the annual CSW resolution targeting Israel in 2018 included Bahrain, where women face discrimination and female activists are detained and tortured; Egypt which ranks towards the bottom on the global gender gap index; and Iran where women are arrested for failing to comply with the forced hijab law.