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.”


Saudi ‘Cultural Days’ attracts crowds in Turkmenistan

Updated 4 min 43 sec ago
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Saudi ‘Cultural Days’ attracts crowds in Turkmenistan

  • Lecture highlights historical relations between Turkmenistan, Arabian Peninsula

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan: This weekend saw a three-day celebration of Saudi Arabian culture take place in Turkmenistan.
Saudi “Cultural Days” opened to visitors on Friday and concluded Sunday. On Thursday night, an official opening ceremony took place at Al-Maqam Palace.
The event included a number of exhibitions, displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.
The pavilion of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research took visitors on a virtual-reality journey through the Two Holy Mosques of Makkah and Madinah and the holy sites, highlighting their expansion and development. It also featured photos and models of projects dating back to the founding of Saudi Arabia, in addition to a number of research papers produced by the institute.
Elsewhere, a pavilion of traditional Saudi costumes displayed dresses from several regions of the Kingdome, which visitors could try on for themselves, and the Darah Foundation provided a history of Saudi-Turkmen relations, with a particular focus on cultural ties, and exhibited artworks that reflected society and the environment in the Kingdom.
A pavilion dedicated to the Zamzam Project explained the evolution of the methods of extracting water from the historic well and distributing it to the Two Holy Mosques.
The College of Agriculture at Qassim University hosted a palm and date exhibition at its pavilion, and there were also pavilions dedicated to Arabic calligraphy; hospitality; the art of henna; and traditional folk dances and music.
On Saturday, the Saudi delegation for “Cultural Days” — which included Saudi Ambassador to Turkmenistan Khalid bin Faisal Al-Sahli, and the Ministry of Media’s general supervisor for international cultural relations, Omar bin Mohammed Al-Aqeel — visited Magtymguly State University in Ashgabat.
During the visit, Dr. Ibrahim bin Mohammed Al-Muzaini and Dr. Hamoud bin Mohammed Al-Najidi of the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University delivered a lecture titled “The importance of the Silk Road, and historical and cultural relations between Turkmenistan and the Arabian Peninsula.”
Al-Muzaini described Turkmenistan as “the jewel of Asia Minor and the essence of history and civilization,” noting that the country is home to historical and archaeological sites dating back to the early Islamic era.
He explained that trading routes traditionally passed through Turkmenistan on their way to the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the Islamic world.
Al-Muzaini proposed establishing a center to document relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan.
Al-Najidi highlighted the cultural ties between the two countries, focusing on the Arab presence in Turkmenistan as well as scientific, economic, and trade ties between the Kingdom and Turkmenistan, in addition to Hajj routes between the two countries.
He also discussed the Turkmen presence in Saudi Arabia through the Khurasan Road, emphasizing the developments and changes the road has gone through.
Ambassador Al-Sahli said in a press statement: “We aspire to assist those who promote and support Arabic language departments in Turkmen universities, and I look forward to agreements that support teaching Arabic in Turkmen universities through the employment of Saudi specialists.”
The dean of the College of Foreign Languages at the university, Dr. Awraz Qaldi Awad Saad, emphasized his country’s desire to include Arabic in its educational curricula, and to teach Turkmen heritage in foreign languages, including Arabic.