‘Justice for all’: How Saudi Arabia’s sexual harassment law will work

With Saudi Arabia’s new anti-harassment law soon to take effect, individuals could now live a normal life free of fear. (File photo)
Updated 03 June 2018

‘Justice for all’: How Saudi Arabia’s sexual harassment law will work

  • Ground-breaking legislation will protect both genders — with those who report violations promised confidentiality
  • Under the law, sexual harassment is defined as words or actions that hint at sexuality towards one person from another, or that harms the body, honor or modesty of a person in any way. 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new anti-harassment law will help all individuals live a normal life free of fear, the Interior Ministry’s security spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, has said.

With the new law coming into effect within a couple of days,  following its publication in the Official Gazette, Al-Turki explained how it would be implemented in a press conference on Thursday. 

The new law, approved by a Council of Ministers meeting last Tuesday,  will combat sexual harassment in the Kingdom, which is considered a crime according to Islamic law. 

“We expect that this law will lower sexual harassment crimes,” Al-Turki said. “We are working towards not having these crimes in any place in the Kingdom.” 

No statistics are available on the incidence of sexual harassment, because of past reluctance to report violations. “These crimes were under the morale law, and because there was  little reporting, that is why this law has been provided to protect the identity of the harassed and help them come forward and report incidents,” Al-Turki said.

The Kingdom has recently witnessed a wide-ranging series of reforms. The ambitious Vision 2030 aims to have women more involved and less segregated than before. While the new law reaffirms women’s role in society, it is not related to women in Saudi Arabia being allowed to drive from June 24, Al-Turki said. In fact, the law applies to both genders.  

“This law is to help all individuals live a normal life without any incidents of harassment,” he said. “Any person who has been subjected to harassment or has been a witness to it should inform the competent authorities.”

The most severe punishments will be given to those who harass people with special needs and children under the age of 18, with an awareness campaign to be introduced in schools.  

“Many people are reluctant to have their children participate in certain activities for fear of being harassed. This law helps put the guardians at ease,” he said.

The most severe cases will face prison terms of up to five years and/or a maximum penalty of SR300,000 ($80,000). Incidents that have been reported more than once will be subject to the maximum punishment. 

Lesser cases will face a prison term of up to two years and/or a maximum penalty of SR100,000. 

“The Public Prosecution will give out the punishment, depending on the crime committed.” Al-Turki said.

Fines paid by the harasser will not go to the harassed. “The most important aspect is that justice has been witnessed by the harassed,” he said.

Under the law, sexual harassment is defined as words or actions that hint at sexuality towards one person from another, or that harms the body, honor or modesty of a person in any way. 

“The law is clear: Anything that is sexually related or within a sexual context will be taken into consideration. Everyone understands what sexual harassment is. We are all Muslims and have been raised with Islamic values,” Al-Turki said. 

The law will apply to modern technology, including social media. “Many people believe if they use fake names, we won’t be able to identify them or track them down,” Al-Turki said. However, “if there are documents and evidence, we will take action.” 

Explicit emojis could be considered harassment, Al-Turki said, but a rose emoji should not be cause for concern. “The investigation between the two individuals will be built on evidence, and the Public Prosecution will conclude if there is or isn’t harassment,” he said.

Reports will protect the privacy of those involved. “We have information that there are a lot of people who are hesitant to report harassments because of the consequences to privacy,” Al-Turki said. “The system provides confidentiality to protect the harassed.” 

 


Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the lockdown as soon as malls and stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers. (SPA)
Updated 20 September 2020

Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

  • E-platforms played a crucial role in SMEs’ survival
  • COVID-19 transformed people’s shopping habits

JEDDAH: Saudis continue to shop online despite the government easing the COVID-19 lockdown, with the surge in e-commerce prompting small and medium-sized enterprises to adapt.

E-commerce saved global retail markets from collapse and stopped consumers from having to go out during the first wave of the outbreak. However, SMEs were the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s consequences and e-platforms played a crucial role in their survival.
Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the COVID-19 lockdown as soon as stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers although they were quick to adapt. SMEs were also forced to adapt, not only to accommodate the growing demand for online shopping but to ensure they survived with minimal losses.
Marion Janson, the chief economist at the UN’s International Trade Centre, said in June that around 20 percent of SMEs globally may not survive the pandemic.
A recent report from Visa revealed increased anxiety among merchants in Saudi Arabia, with 67 percent of small businesses noticing a decrease in average consumer spending.
Many Saudi consumers started shopping online for the first time, primarily for essentials. The Visa report showed that two-thirds of the Saudi consumers surveyed said that COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59 percent made their first online purchase from pharmacies.
“With the confusion at the beginning, we didn’t know what was acceptable and what wasn’t,” said Dr. Suhad Zain, a government employee in Jeddah. “Can we risk going out to shop for our daily needs or not? We needed to be sure that everyone in the house was safe, including the driver, and not expose ourselves to the invisible menace that changed our lifestyles. Most of our groceries were obtained online, from produce to water bottles to even appliances and leisure items. It had to be done, even though we needed time to accept the new change.”
Fear of the virus is expected to change the way consumers behave forever. “It became more convenient even after the lockdown was lifted,” Zain added. “After a few months we got used to it and, as a family, it became our new preferred means of purchase.”
Such conditions were a catalyst for online commerce, according to the Visa report, with 38 percent of merchants in the country reporting the introduction of online offerings as a direct result of the pandemic while more than half had an e-commerce presence before the pandemic.

Two-thirds of the Saudi consumers said COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59% made their first online purchase from pharmacies. (GettyImages)


The report also said there was a surge in e-commerce, a preference for trusted brands, a decline in discretionary spending, and a polarization of sustainability. Consumers have a larger basket, but reduced shopping frequency, and will shift to stores closer to home. A change can easily be detected in Saudi consumer behavior.
But the shift to online commerce, with cash transactions being replaced by digital payments, has negatively influenced cash-only retailers and presents a tough challenge to these merchants, who have to understand the shift in consumer behavior and adapt accordingly and urgently.
“Saudi business owners currently face multiple challenges that they need to deal with when they want to shift to e-commerce, some of them even lack the knowledge of how technology could benefit them and what options it could offer,” Talal Abdullah, a business development and marketing consultant, told Arab News.
“Also some will need to find a technical partner to successfully transform to e-commerce and, most importantly, they need to revisit their business model canvas to determine how they want to employ this technology for the best of their businesses.”
In order to overcome these challenges, Abdullah suggested that business owners look for the right technical partner based on their new model.
“If they fail to find a suitable technical partner, then they need to set a clear budget for the application or website they need to set up. But before reaching out to any company that offers support with these technical services, you must get in touch with real clients of these companies and inquire about their business and how they deal with them.”
He added that seeking assistance from technical consultants or owners of similar projects could cut down on time and effort. Joining business accelerators and incubators, as well as entrepreneurship and technology communities, could help with expanding knowledge and relationships and contribute overall to a smoother transition.
But these changes have their costs too, imposing new financial burdens on an already weakened business due to the pandemic and the time required to build and adapt a new business model that targets a completely different group of customers. It is a serious challenge for many small retailers.
Abu Mohammed has been in the retail business for 20 years. He used to have frequent customers who came in for a specific type of clothing with a certain price range. But, with the lockdown, he could hardly sell anything.
“I began targeting a different kind of customer in the past couple of years where I was importing new clothes and selling them through Instagram and e-commerce websites,” he told Arab News. “However I still cannot completely substitute my current store with a completely virtual one. That needs time and money to build a reputation.”
He said the lockdown had been a harsh experience for him and that he recognized the need to expedite his old plans to transform his store into an actual brand, since people were gradually moving toward online shopping from well-known brands.
“This transformation is not going to be easy at all,” he added. “It will need a good marketing plan and well-spent money not only on tools but also staff. It is a completely new experience, however. I know e-commerce is here to stay and it is our only way forward. Otherwise my work for years will gradually vanish. This crisis could be a blessing in disguise, who knows.”