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Editorials Iran's pro-lashings, pro-stoning policy is not pro-women

The nomination of Iran to a new United Nations agency devoted to the global advancement of women seems like a cruel joke. Will Iran show its commitment to gender equality by persuading other countries to follow its lead by enacting laws that ban women from running for president? Or by promulgating laws that women receive 74 lashes if they appear in public without a head scarf?

The country's legal, social and economic discrimination against women is pervasive, best symbolized by the sentence of death by stoning given to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for adultery and her involvement in her husband's death (her lawyer has said there is no evidence to justify the conviction).

If Iran joins the inaugural executive board of UN Women, it will make a mockery of the agency, and obstruct its work. The board is responsible for approving budgets and projects. Canada must speak out against this grossly inappropriate nomination at today's election, held by the UN's Economic and Social Council, of which Canada is a member.

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Of course, this isn't the first time a country known as one of the worst violators of human rights has been nominated to a UN body dedicated to those very same rights. Cuba and Saudi Arabia have both served as members of the UN Human Rights Council.

Since regional groups put forward slates of candidates privately, it is difficult to mount a public campaign to derail controversial choices. Iran is one of 11 countries nominated for 10 Asian slots on the 41-member board.

While the U.S. has taken a lead role in opposing Iran's bid, Canadian and Australian diplomats are also apparently working behind the scenes. Canada, which has committed $10-million to UN Women, must continue to pressure other countries involved in the vote to thwart Iran - or risk undermining an initiative dedicated to closing the gender gap in employment, education, political participation and many other key areas.

"What's at stake is not just the credibility of the new agency, but the efforts of millions of women who worked for years to create this agency," says Louise Dennys, vice-president of Random House of Canada and a critic of Iran's treatment of women who has spearheaded a campaign to save the life of Ms. Ashtiani. Indeed, at stake is the credibility of the UN itself.

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