Moments ago,  the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations selected 41 members of the executive board of the newest UN body, UN Women.  And much to everyone’s surprise (and, overwhelming pleasure) Iran was kept off the board.

Some background: UN Women, which came to life in July, combines four pre-existing UN bodies that deal with gender and women’s issues and brings them under the direction of a single under-secretary general.  Ban Ki Moon appointed former Chilean President Michelle Bachalet as the first head of UN Women. She, in turn, will work with a 41 member executive board that was voted on today.

Until a couple days ago, it was all but assured that Iran would win a seat.  Like all UN bodies, the “principal of equitable geographic distribution” means that there is a set number of slots for each region.  The Asian group is allocated ten seats, and in had originally nominated ten countries for those ten seats. One of the nominees was Iran.

Then, at the last minute, tiny Timor L’este jumped in the race, making the vote competitive.  This meant that countries (like you-know-who) could call up some of their allies and ask them to vote for East Timor instead of Iran.  (Indeed, something similar occurred last spring, when the United States worked the diplomatic channels to successfully prevent Iran from joining the Human Rights Council.)

So, Iran is out and East Timor is in.  Of course, there is another country on UN Women that is somewhat conspicuos: Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia joined the 41 member council as a “donor country.” That is, there are six spots open to countries that contribute the most to UN Women. Four of those slots are reserved for developed countries (in this case Norway, United Kingdom, United States, Spain). Two are reserved for developing countries.  Saudi Arabia is one of the two developing country donors. Mexico is the other.

So, does having Saudi Arabia on the executive board of UN Women spell its demise? I would think not. Saudi Arabia is not nearly as regressive on women’s issues in global forums as it is domestically.  In fact, one of the UN’s strongest female leaders was Thoraya Obaid, a Saudi woman who ran the UN Population Fund for nearly ten years until her retirement this year.

Also,  even though Saudi Arabia’s is not exactly a paragon of women’s rights, one country cannot undermine the work of UN Women — and I don’t think that Saudi Arabia even has that intention.   One bad apple on the Executive Board–or even two–will not spoil the whole batch.

Of course, the proof will be the in the kind of actions that the executive board takes once it is up and running. Of course, we’ll be following that closely.

H/t to Tony Fleming, who followed this vote closely on Global Memo.

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