Issue 156 - November 2010 – UN Women Executive Board Results, Controversy

New York, November 11, 2010 - On Wednesday, November 10, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) met to elect 41 new members to form the Executive Board of UN Women, the newly-formed agency that will champion gender equality and women's empowerment. Former Chilean President Michele Bachelet was appointed Under-Secretary General of UN Women in September of this year. (For more background, see Issue 154 ) . Now with its Executive Board in place, UN Women is expected to be fully operational by January 1, 2011.

Procedures

According to an ECOSOC resolution dated October 18, on the procedures for the election of members to the Executive Board of UN Women, the 41 members would be drawn from both the 5 regional groups as well as from contributing countries. The break-down of members is as follows:

"Ten from the group of African States; ten from the Group of Asian States; four from the Group of Eastern European States; six from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; five from the Group of Western European and Other States; six from contributing countries".

The first terms will be staggered, in order to avoid having to replace the entire Executive Board at one time. Regional members will serve either two or three year terms, to be determined by the drawing of lots at the first election, while contributing countries will each serve three-year terms.

All terms of office began the day of the election, November 10, so as to allow for the Executive Board to begin work immediately, and terms will run until December 31 of the year in which their respective terms end. For contested slates, a simple majority of votes was required, thus when all 54 members voted, 28 votes were needed for election.

Results

African Group

The African group endorsed ten members for their ten allotted seats, making Wednesday's election a clean slate for that region. The African states elected were:

Angola, Cape Verde, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Nigeria, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

According to the drawing of lots, Angola, Cape Verde, Congo, Ethiopia, and Nigeria will serve three-year terms; Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and United Republic of Tanzania will serve two-year terms.

Asian Group

The Asian group had endorsed ten candidates, but Timor-Leste and the Philippines, late entrants, broke the clean slate by proposing their candidature, following outcry in the media over the possibility of Iran serving on the women's Executive Board. The Philippines, however, subsequently withdrew their candidature leading up to the election.

The members elected for the Asian group were: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, and Timor-Leste. Iran was not elected, as it fell short of the 28 votes required for a majority. Iran received only 19 votes, short of Timor-Leste's 36 votes.   

Following the drawing of lots, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Japan, and Republic of Korea will serve three-year terms; Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Timor-Leste will serve two-year terms.

Eastern European Group

The Eastern European States did not officially endorse candidates, and had five candidates on the ballot for four seats. The elected states were: Estonia, Hungary, Russia, and the Ukraine. Albania was not elected.

Hungary and the Ukraine will serve three-year terms; Estonia and Russia will serve two-year terms.

Latin American and Caribbean Group

The Latin American and Caribbean States also did not officially endorse candidates, and had seven states on the ballot for its six allotted seats. The elected states were: Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, and Peru. St. Vincent and the Grenadines was not elected.

The Dominican Republic, Grenada, and Peru will serve three-year terms; Argentina, Brazil, and El Salvador will serve two-year terms.

Western European and Other Group

The Western European and Other States elected a clean slate of five members, including: Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and Sweden.

Denmark, Luxembourg, and Sweden will serve three-year terms; France and Italy will serve two-year terms.

Contributing countries

According to the ECOSOC resolution, of the contributing countries' six seats, four seats would be allotted to donor countries, to be voted on from among the top 10 donors overall; the remaining two donor seats would be allotted to top donors from emerging countries, to be voted on by contributing countries in that category.

Uncontested, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States won the four top donor seats. Also uncontested were Mexico and Saudi Arabia, who won the emerging donor country seats. All contributing country members elected will serve three-year terms.

Controversy over Iran, Saudi Arabia

Leading up to Wednesday's election, human rights groups were outraged over the possibility of Iran and Saudi Arabia serving on UN Women's executive board, citing their poor women's rights records.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi, referred to Iran's possible membership on the board as "a joke," criticizing: "How can a country that has not ratified the CEDAW convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women be present on that board, be a member of that board and speak about women's rights?"

The United States also openly opposed Iran's bid. Following the election on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice expressed relief , stating, "We've made no secret that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board ... and we think it was a very good outcome today."

A British spokesperson also applauded the results: "The UK strongly believes that countries on the board of UN Women should have demonstrated a firm commitment to women's rights and gender equality."

While many are still concerned over Saudi Arabia's election to the board, a Human Rights Watch specialist has said that they will "use this spotlight to push them [Saudi Arabia] to start making some significant progress." Hopefully, their membership on UN Women's board will be used as a source to spur constructive progress on women's empowerment, rather than to hinder it.