Saudi Arabia has been chosen to chair a United Nations forum on women’s rights and gender equality, prompting debate and concerns.

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The United Nations’ decision to appoint Saudi Arabia as the chair of a gender equality forum has sparked criticism from women’s rights advocates worldwide. The Saudi Arabia Mission to the UN announced that Saudi Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil was elected as chair for the 69th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in 2025.

Leading up to the decision, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Advocacy, Sherine Tadros, condemned Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, citing its abysmal record on women’s rights. Tadros emphasized the importance of the CSW chair upholding the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern, highlighting Saudi Arabia’s systematic discrimination against women and persecution of women’s rights activists. The organization warned against the UN decision, given Saudi Arabia’s track record.

However, Saudi Arabia defended its role, stating its eagerness to collaborate with the CSW to enhance women’s rights and empowerment. The Saudi government emphasized its commitment to women’s advancement, citing its Vision 2030 plan, which aims to create opportunities for all individuals in the kingdom.

Saudi Vision 2030 outlines priorities and targets aimed at ensuring women’s full participation at all levels and harnessing their capabilities effectively. The government sees its chairmanship of the CSW as a testament to its dedication to cooperation within the international community on women’s issues.

Despite these assertions, critics remain skeptical, urging Saudi Arabia to demonstrate its commitment through tangible actions domestically. They argue that leadership roles should be earned through substantive progress on women’s rights, rather than mere rhetoric.

The controversy surrounding Saudi Arabia’s appointment underscores broader debates within the international community regarding the balance between recognizing progress and addressing ongoing challenges in women’s rights globally.

Furthermore, the decision has reignited discussions about the UN’s selection process for leadership roles and the criteria used to evaluate candidates’ suitability, particularly concerning human rights records.

Amidst the scrutiny, the CSW’s upcoming session chaired by Saudi Arabia is poised to be closely monitored by advocacy groups and member states alike, as they assess the kingdom’s approach to advancing gender equality on the international stage.

In response to mounting pressure, Saudi Arabia may face heightened scrutiny and calls for accountability regarding its domestic policies and treatment of women, both within its borders and as part of its international commitments.

Ultimately, the outcome of Saudi Arabia’s chairmanship of the CSW will serve as a litmus test for the kingdom’s willingness to prioritize and uphold women’s rights in practice, rather than merely in rhetoric or symbolism.

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