Last month, Iran was elected by acclamation to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women, or CSW – the principal global policy-making body devoted to gender equality and the advancement of women.
There was an immediate outcry from human rights organizations and women's rights advocates both inside and outside Iran over the incongruity that a country that consistently fails to uphold women’s rights had once again become a member of a UN body charged with advancing women's rights and women's empowerment.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Iran has gained a seat on the 45-member CSW. Iran, one of eleven members of the Asia Group in the UN, has been a CSW member for most of the past two decades. For each of these elections, the Asia Group put forward "clean slates," meaning that regional groups present only as many candidates as there are designated spaces for the group. As is standard in UN election practice, when the number of interested candidates is the same as the number of available seats, the slate of candidates is automatically endorsed.
For the four-year term beginning in 2011, the Asia Group put forward two candidates – Iran and Thailand – for two available vacancies, meaning that Iran was virtually guaranteed a seat.
However, despite the mixed records of the CSW member states on promoting women’s rights, the CSW has arrived at consensus documents on several topics of importance, including violence against women and girls, women's and girls' health, women's political and economic empowerment, and women and girls in conflict and refugee situations.
Aside from seeking and obtaining CSW membership, Iran has pursued membership in other UN organizations for which it is clearly unqualified, including the Human Rights Council, a body in which Iran has never been a member. However, after realizing that the international community was indeed going to hold Iran to the very human rights standards endorsed by the body to which Iran was seeking membership, Iran withdrew its bid.
Iran's treatment of women falls far short of international standards, and it does not merit membership in a body dedicated to advancing the status of women.