The United Nations has long sent confusing signals about its commitment to human rights. Its Security Council has welcomed the heads of totalitarian states, and various members of high rank have tip-toed through mine fields of graft and corruption, but the latest decision is a staggering example of how ludicrous this international body has become.
The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” has just elected Iran to its deliberative body for a four-year term. This would be the theocratic state that adheres strictly to Islam’s shari’a law that posits that women are only worth half the value of a man. This is the legal code that demands that women be lashed for immodest behavior (to be determined by the state) and publicly stoned to death for particular offenses. This is the government who gunned down Neda Agha-Soltan last summer, an aspiring Persian singer who had the audacity to congregate with her countrymen who rallied for weeks for open elections and basic human rights.
A group of 214 Iranian activists circulated a petition asking that member states of the United Nations oppose Iranian’s election to the commission and their appeal was endorsed by over a dozen human rights bodies. Their letter outlines the status of women in Iran where they “lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women’s admission at universities, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws.”
Women who have protested their treatment in Iran have been subsequently arrested, interrogated, tortured, and raped while in custody. Thus the regime has used brute force to enforce both the fundamental inequality of women under shari’a and the oppressive tactics of a totalitarian state to any who speak out against the injustice. In addition to all of these indignities, the government’s most perverse response to human rights protesters is to arrest and jail their mothers — as a twisted recognition of the honored place that mothers hold in the hearts of their own children.
Interestingly, Iran is also the home of a high-ranking Islamic cleric who recently blamed earthquakes on immodest women. His ridiculous assertion drew a sharp reaction from western feminists who decried the right of anyone to determine for others what apparel or behavior is modest or appropriate. Their hysterical response was to call on women everywhere to dress immodestly to prove him wrong — only proving that they are as radically wrong as he is.
That impasse underscored once again that women are served neither by the radical feminists who insist on unbridled individualism at the expense of the community or radical theocrats who insist that the human person be subject to draconian suppression of basic rights. Given the fact that the U.N. Commission on Women is dominated by gender feminists who are rabidly pro-abortion and anti-family, there may be fireworks in the coming years, but that cannot endear us to a regime that denies basic freedoms to its people and equality to its women.
As usual, our Christian anthropology avoids both extremes and offers the only authentic view of the beauty of the human person. Modesty matters, as does collaboration between men and women, and the right to religious determination. Until the United Nations honors the dignity of the human person as a gift of God and a reflection of his love and reason, this institution cannot be trusted to promote those things the world needs most.
[The Anchor 5.7.10]