Saudi Arabia chosen to hold the presidency of the CSW, the UN commission for Women’s Rights.


By Miguel Suárez 


The United Nations (UN) has long been regarded as a beacon of hope for advancing gender equality and women's rights worldwide. One of the organizations surveilling concretely the matter of Women’s rights around the world is the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which is part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, one of the most important organisms within the UN. 

The CSW, apart from their daily activities, organizes an annual forum in which they negotiate and publish a report on the development of gender equality in the world. The controversy arose when Saudi Arabia was chosen as the rotatory president of the Commission and as the host country for the forum 2025.

Apart from the several NGOs and international organizations that have questioned the decision during this week, a great wave of critics has emerged from the civil society, especially on social media. These critics are sustained on the continuous reports of violations both of the Human Rights and the Rights of the Women in the country. Along this article, the current situation of the Rights in the country and the possible reasons behind this decision by the Committee will be explored and discussed, in order to unveil the ethical and moral implications of this decision.

For starters, Saudi Arabia's social and legal landscape is marked by deeply entrenched gender disparities and discriminatory practices. For decades, women in Saudi Arabia have faced systemic barriers to their autonomy and equality. While recent reforms, such as granting women the right to drive, have been hailed as progress, they have done little to address the underlying issues of gender inequality. (Expatica Saudi Arabia, 2024) Women still face significant restrictions on their freedoms, including guardianship laws that require them to obtain permission from a male guardian for basic activities such as travel and marriage as Amnesty International and other organizations report year after year. (Amnesty International, 2023)

Apart from the lack of Rights of Women in this country, several violations of Human Rights are regularly reported (Amnesty International UK, 2024), an increase in the number of executions or the fact that, even though they are taking regular elections, according to all the international indexes on political liberties -Freedom House: Not free; Polity V: -10; DD measure: Dictatorship- (Freedom House, 2023) (Cheibub et al, 2010) (Polity IV, 2013) they remain an autocracy are clear indicators of these violations. These kinds of policies and laws clash directly with the principles supposed to be defended by the UN. The question is clear for the critics, how can Saudi Arabia be responsible for defending a set of rights that is systematically violated within its own borders?

Countries of the region, including Qatar or United Arab Emirates, have been openly engaged in image washing practices in recent years, not only in the international organizations sector but also in other areas, especially in entertainment and sports, investing huge amounts of money in these practices, in order to attract the biggest shows to their facilities, and with them, cameras from all over the world, and the soft power quote they imply.. Even leaders of these States have openly admitted to carrying out this type of practices with the intention to improve worldwide perception of their countries (MacInnes, 2023)

And it is not only by offering millionaire payments to artists and athletes that they manage to attract this type of event. Numerous cases have been uncovered regarding the use of bribes and influence peddling to obtain the allocation of events, especially the case of the Qatar 2022 Football World Cup, but there are suspicions about many other activities. (Panja & Draper, 2020)

Is it possible that the election of Saudi Arabia as the presidency of this Commission has something to do with these practices? And if so, Is it possible that there is any illegal activity behind this decision?

The UN's decision to appoint Saudi Arabia as the presiding country of the Women's Rights Forum has raised eyebrows and sparked outrage among Human Rights advocates. Critics argue that this justification is deeply flawed. Saudi Arabia's track record on women's rights is marred by persistent Human Rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, and harassment of women's rights activists. (Human Rights Watch, 2019a) By appointing Saudi Arabia to lead the Women's Rights Forum, the UN risks legitimizing and whitewashing these abuses.

Nevertheless, there is a line of argumentation behind this decision. Despite the fact that the current situation is far from ideal, it is undeniable that there has been great progress in this matter. Several laws have been passed allowing more freedoms to women, starting with the capacity to get an ID and a passport by themselves without permission of a man, permission to drive or access to stadiums (Human Rights Watch, 2019b). Again, of course, this is far from the goal of equality, but the position of the responsibles is that the country is in a process of openness and development, and events like this summit could suppose important milestones in this process. (Borger, 2024)

Truth is the decision process that has led to this situation is not exactly as one would expect. The UN didn’t elect Saudi Arabia either by themselves or through a voting, the Presidency of this organism is rotatory. This means that the country members of the Commission are divided by continent, and one country from each continent holds the charge every two years. In this case Saudi Arabia is part of the Asian group of countries, from this group the charge was held by the Philippines, but since this country is no longer going to be part of the Commission by 2024, they decided to share the presidency with Saudi Arabia -how these negotiations took place and what did they entail is not of public domain-. (Schaer, 2024)

As for the voting process and why didn’t anybody oppose, usually the countries vote in block by continent to ensure results, in this case the Asian block was the biggest support for Saudi Arabia, and, according to declarations, western countries decided to accept the proposal in order to “avoid setting a precedent”, since in 2022 Iran was already rejected to hold the chair of the Council. (Ibidem)

As mentioned, the international community's response to this appointment has been swift and unequivocal. Human rights organizations, advocacy groups, and member states have condemned the decision, describing it as a betrayal of the UN's core principles. Critics argue that Saudi Arabia's presidency undermines the credibility of the Women's Rights Forum and sends a dangerous message about the organization's commitment to gender equality. Moreover, the appointment has raised concerns about the UN's willingness to prioritize diplomatic considerations over human rights concerns.

Saudi Arabia's leadership of the CSW poses significant challenges for the advancement of gender equality within the UN framework. There are fears that the country's conservative values and restrictive policies will influence the agenda of the Commission, potentially derailing efforts to address critical issues such as violence against women, reproductive rights, and economic empowerment. Moreover, Saudi Arabia's appointment raises broader questions about the UN's ability to uphold its principles in the face of political pressures and diplomatic considerations.

At the same time it is the perfect opportunity for Saudi Arabia to increase the pace of the reforms, they will have the international point of view over them and it is probable that they will make an effort to make a good impression. 

In light of these concerns, and the different points of view that have been presented, the debate is on, and infinite questions remain unsolved. Should Saudi Arabia be allowed to hold this position or should it be banned from these kinds of organizations? Can this be an opportunity for improving the situation of women in the country or is this another image-whitening strategy to gain soft power and acceptance from the West? How did the negotiations take place? Was there any illegal method of persuasion or simple politics? Is the UN sufficiently transparent on these kinds of procedures?

For the time being, one can only hope that with the passage of time some of these questions will be cleared up, the decision is firm and it does not appear that the UN intends to revoke it. In the meantime, the debate is still more than open and activists and organizations have already set out to get to the bottom of the matter.


Saudi Arabia's appointment as the presiding country of the Commission on the Status of Womens is a stark reminder of the challenges facing the global movement for gender equality. While the decision may have diplomatic justifications, it sends a troubling message about the UN's priorities and its commitment to advancing women's rights. Moving forward, it is imperative that member states and civil society organizations continue to pressure the UN to uphold its principles and ensure that the Women's Rights Forum remains a platform for meaningful action and progress on gender equality issues. 

And what do you think about the issue? Something should be done? To what extent should the UN be inclusive with all countries, even with those that don’t respect HR? How should this matter be addressed? Stay tuned to our news for more interesting cases like this one and of course, if you have an opinion be sure to present it in our social media profiles. See you again next week!



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