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"...a commentary on contemporary misogyny," Stephen Lewis Tells African Women's Development Fund

Extract from remarks to the African Women and Political Participation Conference, part of the 10th Anniversary Celebrations of the African Women’s Development Fund, November 12, 2010, Accra, Ghana.

It’s been quite a week, as all of us would agree. The most vivid moment, in the context of this conference, undoubtedly occurred when Iran lost its bid for a seat on the Executive Board of the new international agency, UN Women.

Iran certainly had it coming. It was particularly satisfying to see the David and Goliath parable played out in such vivid modernity: Iran was demolished in the vote by East Timor, population 1 million versus Iran’s population of 72 million.

The possibility of Iran joining the Board of UN Women was truly outrageous. Virtually the entire world was aghast at the case of Sakineh Ashtiani, the woman who faced death by stoning for adultery. Iran backed away in the face of massive international protest, but in a trumped-up trial, worthy of Stalinist doctrine, Sakineh was found guilty of conspiring with the murderer of her husband and sits on death row, in isolation, awaiting execution.

Iran is a country where domestic violence is legal; marital rape is legal. A charge of rape can indeed be brought by a woman, but four male witnesses are required, or three men and two women, and if the charge fails, the woman who made the accusation receives eighty lashes.

Iran is a country where a woman requires her husband or father or male relative to sign her passport application. Iran is a country where a husband’s permission is required should the wife choose to go abroad.

It is all infinitely revolting, and in places, infinitely fatal.

Quite simply, putting Iran on the Board of UN Women would have been like putting a Nazi on the Board of a Holocaust Museum.

As it turned out, Iran lost. But think about it for a moment: Iran was included in a block of ten countries for an election by acclamation. That is to say, no election at all. It’s worth considering what the Asian regional UN group really thinks of women in the circumstances. It’s quite a commentary on contemporary misogyny.

It’s also a commentary on the poisonous back-room wheeling and dealing at the United Nations, as countries trade votes and money and seats and positions to achieve election to Boards and Commissions. In this instance, it amounted to international trafficking in the rights of women.

But the story doesn’t end with what almost happened with Iran.

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