What Saudi Arabia is doing to end violence against women

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. (Shutterstock)
Updated 25 November 2018

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 TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

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Updated 12 July 2020

Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

  • Due to pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine

RIYADH: Chinese video platform TikTok is under fire once again, as rumors of the app being a tool used by the Chinese government to spy on users resurface online.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is a video-sharing site similar to the now-defunct Vine, where users share short clips of themselves which can be altered using AI technology.
Lip-syncing along with a track, using filters, and adding special effects give users the chance to create short clips that can be shared and downloaded in several social media platforms.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users downloaded TikTok to watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine. The app has also gained significant popularity in the Middle East with influencers such as Saudi model Roz, UAE-based content creators Khalid and Salama, and Saudi top TikToker iimeeto, who recently celebrated reaching four million followers on the platform.
Rania Mohammed, a fourth year medical student at Dar AlUloom University in Riyadh, said that TikTok was “the only thing keeping her sane” as she struggled with the pressures of school and quarantine.
“As a med school student, my attention span and free time are both severely limited,” she told Arab News. “Taking a 15 minute break to watch silly TikToks has helped me keep motivated. The specific brand of humor on that app is the fastest way to make me laugh.”
Mai Alhumood, a government employee, said that she downloaded the app while she was bored and became “quickly addicted” to the platform’s fun short videos.
“People are so creative on TikTok, and the challenges that keep going viral are so interesting,” she told Arab News.
However, the app has long-suffered from accusations of spying and gathering users’ private information on behalf of the Chinese government, leading to both temporary and permanent bans in countries around the world.
Recently, it was reported that Amazon requested that employees remove the app from their smartphones in an email over “security risks.” The company later retracted its directive.
Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber believed that concerns over the security of TikTok’s collected data stemmed from the app’s country of origin and its rules and regulations.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a ‘threat to the sovereignty and security of the country’ following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.

• Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding ‘illegal content’ such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.

• Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. He said that banning the app would be ‘punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.’

“TikTok collects data in a very similar way to US applications,” he told Arab News. “However the main concern is that the US has regulations and compliance that must be met when collecting customer data, such as GDPR data privacy regulation. In the case of TikTok, we don’t know as much about how the data is being used or stored because we don’t know their regulations.”
Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a “threat to the sovereignty and security of the country” following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.
Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding “illegal content” such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.
Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. In an interview with Gray Television, Trump said that banning the app would be “punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.”
“Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful,” he said.
While Saudi Arabia has yet to announce a ban of any kind of TikTok, local users and followers are trying to practice caution while using the app anyway.
Alhumood considered making videos on the platform, but dismissed the idea and only uses it to follow other people’s videos.
“I have ideas for it, sure, but I’d rather not take the risk. I don’t even have a username or a registered account, and that’s one of the better things about TikTok. I only have the app, but I can still watch all the videos without giving them my private information.”
Mohammed also said that she had no interest in creating videos herself, though she did have a registered account in order to comment on videos and keep track of her favorites.
However Al-Jaber said that, in his opinion, registering an account on TikTok did not necessarily pose more of a risk than using other social media.
“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.