What Saudi Arabia is doing to end violence against women

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. (Shutterstock)
Updated 25 November 2018
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What Saudi Arabia is doing to end violence against women

  • The numbers show that around 35 percent of women have experienced violence, in line with global figures
  • From laws preventing abuse to rehabilitation programs, the Kingdom is tackling the problem on several levels

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia joins the world in marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, and it has taken steady steps toward protecting them under the law.

Dr. Majid Al-Eissa, executive director of the National Family Safety Program, said that around 35 percent of women in Saudi Arabia have experienced at least one type of violence in their lifetime.

“Our latest study pointed out that violence rates against women are close to 35 percent,” Al-Eissa told Arab News.

“This number is in line with global figures without any significant difference, which means that the issue of violence against women exists everywhere around the world, and no society is immune.”

The latest project by the National Family Safety Program is a rehabilitation program for women who have been victims of violence, which will be rolled out throughout the Kingdom from next month.

The program, which is seven weeks long, aims to help them resume a normal life after the experience they have been through. “So far, 120 women have benefited from our rehabilitation program in Riyadh alone,” Al-Eissa said.

Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, chairman of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, said 1,059 cases of violence against women were reported to courts in 2017, of which 348 were cases of physical violence, 59 of domestic violence and 65 of sexual abuse.

A poll of more than 1,000 people by the Saudi National Center for Public Opinion Polls in November last year revealed that 16 percent of women believe that the prevalence of violence against women is high, 73 percent of respondents said husbands are the main abusers of women, and 83 percent of violence cases take place in the home, where women are most vulnerable.

Al-Eissa said the role of the National Family Safety Program is primarily based on preventive strategies, including awareness campaigns, forums, courses, seminars and workshops in partnership with various institutions, including universities and human rights organizations.

“In addition, we mainly focus on preparing civil workers and individuals who deal with the victims,” he said. “It means that we deal with various sectors, such as security agents, judiciary personnel, workers in social institutions, mental health workers, doctors and teachers. We work with them on training and capacity-building to be able to identify and deal with these issues appropriately.”

Since the UN issued the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993, Saudi Arabia has taken steady steps toward protecting women and upholding their rights.

In 2013, the Kingdom adopted a law criminalizing domestic violence, which usually targets women and children.

The law defines abuse as “any form of exploitation; physical, psychological or sexual, or the threat thereof committed by an individual against another exceeding the limits of powers and responsibilities derived from guardianship, dependency, sponsorship, trusteeship or livelihood relationship. The term ‘abuse’ shall include the omission or negligence of an individual in the performance of his duties or responsibilities in providing basic needs for a family member or an individual for whom he is legally responsible.”

As the institution concerned with the implementation of this law, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development established the social protection unit. Its responsibilities include receiving reports and dealing with cases from beginning to end in collaboration with the relevant authorities.

The ministry formed 17 committees for social protection in the Kingdom’s main regions, and contracted a number of charitable societies in areas where the social protection branches are absent. It also established a center to receive reports of violence and abuse on a toll-free number (1919)that runs for 24 hours with an all-female staff.

The branches immediately intervene in cases of abuse, and coordinate with relevant authorities within a timeframe of two to six hours from the first report, based on the seriousness of the situation.

Moreover, they are responsible for designing programs to deal with perpetrators of violence. The aim is to study their health and psychological conditions, and help them become better family members.

For years, the ministry has been carrying out awareness campaigns to tackle the issue of violence against women, and implementing training and rehabilitation programs for groups exposed to violence, in cooperation with other governmental bodies, including the National Family Safety Program.

In June, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of labor and social development, Dr. Tamader Al-Rammah, was elected to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, a 23-member body that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

It reviews country reports and adopts recommendations, receives complaints from individuals or groups concerning violations of rights protected under the convention, and initiates inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights.

One achievement this year was the addition of a new anti-harassment law. The penalties range from a prison term of up to two years and/or a SR100,000 ($26,600) fine, to prison terms of up to five years and/or a maximum SR300,000 fine. 

Maha Al-Muneef, former executive director of the National Family Safety Program in Saudi Arabia and a pediatrician and activist, tweeted: “The law of protection from abuse was adopted to protect women from domestic violence, now the adoption of the anti-harassment law will protect women outside the home.”

The Interior Ministry’s security spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, told Arab News: “We expect that this law will lower sexual harassment crimes. We are working toward not having these crimes in any place in the Kingdom.”


KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

Updated 25 April 2019
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KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

  • Al-Rabeeah: We have no hidden agenda in Syria and we work through international organizations

BEIRUT: The general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, signed on Wednesday seven agreements with Beirut and international and civil organizations operating in Lebanon to implement relief projects targeting Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as the most affected host communities in Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who participated in the symposium at the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut to sign the agreements, praised the strong Saudi-Lebanese relations, which have existed for decades, and stressed Lebanon’s keenness to ensure their permanence and development.

He said: “The meetings Al-Rabeeah has held with different Lebanese political and religious authorities over the past two days during his visit to Lebanon, under the guidance of King Salman, indicate the Saudi leadership’s true desire to deepen the fraternal ties with the Lebanese, support Lebanon’s unity, independence, sovereignty and coexistence formula, and protect its existence from the repercussions of all the fires, crises and interventions that plague many countries.”

During the symposium, which was attended by a large group of political, religious and social figures, Al-Rabeeah called on the international donor community to shoulder more responsibility.

Addressing the implementing bodies, he said: “It is time to reconsider your working mechanisms in order to develop them and improve procedures to avoid negative impacts.”

“What I mean by reconsidering working processes is that there is a need to work professionally and skillfully because there are not many resources, and we must eliminate bureaucracy and speedily make the most of resources,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.

He stressed the importance of developing a close partnership between the donor and the implementer of projects, highlighting that KSRelief’s work is subject to international and regional oversight mechanisms as well as its own internal control mechanisms.

“We have two strategic partners, and when agreements are signed with the recipients of assistance, this means accepting oversight terms,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Saudi Arabia supports the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country, and so is the case for Yemen.”

“Saudi Arabia has supported peaceful dialogues, which restore security and stability,” he said. “In order for this to happen in Syria, we support the efforts of the United Nations and implement (as KSRelief) relief programs inside Syria. We also have major programs and we count on the UN to ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees.”

On the Syrian regions in which KSRelief is implementing its programs and the difficulties faced, Al-Rabeeah told Arab News: “We have nothing to do with military or religious matters, and wherever there is security, we work. We also work through the UN and the international organizations inside Syria, and we do not have any hidden agenda in this field.”

He stressed that “participating in rebuilding Syria requires security and stability, and the Saudi leadership hopes for a peaceful solution as soon as possible. Until this is achieved, the relief work will continue and won’t cease.”

Al-Rabeeah announced that KSRelief is implementing a quality program to rehabilitate recruited children in Yemen alongside its education, protection, health and environment projects.

“There are those who recruit children to fight in Yemen, violating all humanitarian laws. Our center rehabilitates them so that they are not used as terrorist tools in the future,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah emphasized that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 has given relief work its share, especially in terms of volunteering programs. “We have great examples involved in the field,” he said.

Among the signed agreements was one with the Lebanese High Relief Commission (HRC) to carry out a project to cover the food needs of Lebanese families.

Chairman of Lebanon’s High Relief Commission Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair told Arab News that the agreement targets distributing 10,000 food rations to orphans, widows and destitute families in the poorest and most disadvantaged areas in Lebanon. “This project is encouraging and gives hope to people,” he said.

Khair said that there are 100,000 people in need in Bab Al-Tabbaneh district alone, pledging to commit to transparency during the implementation of the project. “It is not a question of sectarian balance; we are focused on those who are most in need,” he said.

The signed agreements include one for repairing, equipping, and operating the Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Center for Dialysis at the Makassed General Hospital, an agreement with the UNHCR worth $5 million to implement a project for assisting the most affected Syrian families for six months, an agreement to support Souboul Assalam Association in Akkar (northern Lebanon), an agreement with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to implement a project worth $3.8 million to cover the needs of Syrian families that are below the poverty line for a year, and an agreement with UNRWA to cover the medical needs and treatment of cancer and multiple sclerosis in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said: “The challenge facing UNRWA after the reduction of its budget is maintaining the operation of its 715 schools in the Middle East.”

“Saudi Arabia is a key partner for us, and owing to its help, we will be able to help cancer and multiple sclerosis patients,” he said.