United Nations member states have removed Iran from a key UN women’s rights group just months after it joined. The unusual reversal comes as Iran is rattled by an ongoing protest movement sparked by the death of a young woman in the custody of the country’s so-called “morality police”
Twenty-nine members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council voted Wednesday in favor of a resolution proposed by the United States to “remove with immediate effect the Islamic Republic of Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women for the remainder of its 2022-2026 term.”
Eight member states voted against the resolution, and 16 abstained.
Addressing the council on Wednesday, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that “women and activists have appealed to us, the United Nations, for support.”
“They made their request to us loud and clear: remove Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women.”
“The reason why is straightforward. The Commission is the premier UN body for promoting gender equality and empowering women. It cannot do its important work if it is being undermined from within. Iran’s membership at this moment is an ugly stain on the Commission’s credibility,” Thomas-Greenfield added.
Iran condemned the US resolution, calling it an “illegal request” and said it weakens the rule of law in the United Nations.
Iran’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, Amir Saeed Irvani, said the resolution to remove Iran was built on “baseless claims and fabricated arguments using fake narratives,” according to state news agency IRNA on Wednesday.
Iran had only just begun its four-year term on the 45-member Commission on the Status of Women – which was created to advocate for gender equality globally – after being elected to the body in April.
In recent months, the country has been gripped by mass protests sparked by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being detained in Tehran by a police unit that enforces strict dress codes for women, such as wearing the compulsory headscarf.
Iran’s demonstrations, often led by women, have since coalesced around a range of grievances with the regime. Authorities have unleashed a deadly crackdown on demonstrators, with reports of forced detentions and physical abuse being used to target the country’s Kurdish minority group.
Another representative from Iran’s delegation to the UN responded to the vote, saying, “My delegation condemns any politicization of women’s rights and rejects all accusations made in particular by the US and certain EU members.”
She also described Iran’s “efforts to promote and protect women’s rights” driven by the country’s “rich culture and well-established constitution.”
Iran is “a progressive society that takes into consideration the needs and listens to the voices of its women and girls eagerly and strives toward a better future for and with its women and girls,” she said.
A UN report released in March 2021 described Iranian women and girls as treated like “second class citizens.” The report cited widespread child marriage involving girls between the ages of 10 and 14, weak protections against domestic violence, and lack of legal autonomy for women, among other issues.
“Blatant discrimination exists in Iranian law and practice that must change. In several areas of their lives, including in marriage, divorce, employment, and culture, Iranian women are either restricted or need permission from their husbands or paternal guardians, depriving them of their autonomy and human dignity. These constructs are completely unacceptable and must be reformed now,” said the report’s author Javaid Rehman at the time.
Following months of protests, Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in early December that the country’s parliament and judiciary were reviewing the law that requires women to wear a hijab in public, according to pro-reform outlet Entekhab.
But there is no evidence of what, if any, changes could be forthcoming to the law, which came into effect after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Reacting to news of Iran’s removal from the body, Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch said it was a “welcome step,” but remained a “far cry” from true accountability.
In a statement to CNN, Charbonneau added, “What’s needed is urgent coordinated pressure on Iran to end its campaign of violence, credible prosecutions of individuals who are directly responsible for these appalling violations of human rights, and an end to the severe discrimination against women.”