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Government: 'We raised concerns on status of women with Saudi Arabia'

“Ireland has a long-standing and proud record in the area of women’s rights and children’s rights,” Minister Flanagan said.

shutterstock_629007746 View of women's entrance to the Prophet Muhammad Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. Source: Shutterstock/Creative Caliph

THE MINISTER FOR Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, is coming under sustained pressure today to publicly disclose whether Ireland voted to allow Saudi Arabia on an international committee about women’s rights.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia was voted to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – with it revealed recently that five European countries voted in its favour.

The country is considered regressive with regards to human rights for women because of a guardianship system that sees women asking for permission from a male family member to work or study.

It’s been revealed that Belgium was one of the five European countries that voted for Saudi Arabia’s place on the CSW; the government has apologised and said that they would vote differently if given the opportunity.

Minister Charlie Flanagan clarified the Irish government’s position today, saying that keeping Ireland’s votes in the UN secret represents “good functioning of the UN, which is made up of member states of very different views and political backgrounds”.

He said that it would be “damaging” for Ireland and “irresponsible” of him if he were to disclose how Ireland voted in this or any other case.

1397 Brexit Exit_90507141 Minister Charlie Flanagan. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One today, he added: “I’m very concerned about the status of women in Saudi Arabia. On a visit to Saudi Arabia just before Christmas I raised the matter specifically with the deputy foreign minister. We discussed how the status of women in Saudi could be progressed and improved.

Ireland has a long-standing and proud record in the area of women’s rights and children’s rights. In fact, the UN committee will be chaired by Ireland, it will be Ireland who is setting the agenda.<
We’re continuing to make a positive contribution on the equality agenda.

Backlash

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Trade, Darragh O’Brien said that “Saudi women are essentially treated as second-class citizens” and that their place on the council is a “very negative signal to those campaigning for equal rights”.

…The Irish Government point-blank refuses to say how we voted as a country and to explain that decision. This position is unacceptable.

“Darragh O’Brien will know,” Flanagan answered,

“That Fianna Fáil have a long-standing policy tradition and practice in the UN. I don’t recall any instance, in which a Fianna Fáil government disclosed the manner in which it voted.”

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan said that it was inappropriate for Saudi Arabia to have a seat on a committee that promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women.

“Saudi Arabia is a country that continues to imprison human rights defenders and activists for criticising authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. “Furthermore, the authorities continue to discriminate against women and religious minorities.

This is not a country which is fit to receive the vote of an Irish government, or of any progressive government who value human and women’s rights.

Members of the Independent Alliance have said this afternoon that they want the Department of Foreign Affairs to disclose how Ireland voted on Saudi Arabia’s membership of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Minister of State John Halligan said the rights of women were being violated in the country and it cannot be tolerated.

“There is no question in my mind that women’s rights are being violated… we should not stand for it or qualify it,” said Halligan.

“It would be remiss of any of us not to condemn the violation of women’s rights,” he added.

When asked if he would like to know if Ireland voted in favour of the country’s membership, Halligan said, “I would, yes.” Transport Minister Shane Ross said he thinks it would be “preferable in the interest of transparency” that the officials reveal how Ireland voted, though he said he had not discussed the issue with anyone.

Minister of State Finian McGrath said there is no doubt that it will come up in next week’s Cabinet meeting as he said there are differing views on the matter within Cabinet.

Labour spokesperson on foreign affairs, Senator Ivana Bacik, and Councillor Éilis Ryan from the Workers’ Party also expressed concern at Ireland’s position on Saudi Arabia’s seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

“There is no justification for silence from the government on this matter”, said Councillor Ryan.

There is no security implication, and no economic or other excuse can be acceptable. Either the Dáil or the court of public opinion must extract the truth from the government.

Leading role

In a response issued this evening, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia here in Dublin said that their candidacy came from the Kingdom’s “leading role” in strengthening the role of women worldwide.

“Saudi Arabia has taken great steps in promoting the rights of women, guaranteed by Islamic laws before the existence of international conventions, which aim at empowering women as fundamental and active members of society. Women in the Kingdom occupy a prominent position in various fields encouraged by government support for women’s involvement in the political and legislative live, through their membership of the Shura Council In order to enhance women’s role in the development journey in the Kingdom.

“The representation of women in the Shura Council, which is the legislative authority, is about 20%, and the Saudi women have achieved great success in holding leadership positions in Ministries, Government Agencies, private sector and academic institutions.”

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