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.”

Oil coup for Saudi Arabia as output cuts are extended

Updated 24 min 43 sec ago

Oil coup for Saudi Arabia as output cuts are extended

  • ‘Compliance is vital,’ Prince Abdul Aziz says

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia pulled off a coup in the world of oil diplomacy on Saturday with an agreement to extend the historic output cuts credited with pulling energy markets out of chaos.

At a virtual meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producersled by Russia, 23 exporters agreed to roll over the record-breaking cuts until the end of July, with a monthly option to renew the agreement after that.

The deal has strict provisions against producers who fail to comply. Some countries, notably Iraq and Nigeria, have been accused of ignoring the agreed caps on crude production.

“Effective compliance is vital if we are to secure the hard-won stability in global oil markets and restore confidence in the unity and effectiveness of the OPEC+ group,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, the Saudi Energy Minister. “This stability and positive market sentiment will bring its own rewards.”

OPEC+ agreed unanimously that countries that have fallen short of full compliance since May 1 will make up that shortfall over the summer months and will adhere to production limits in the future.

Compliance will be assessed at monthly ministerial monitoring meetings until the end of the year. “We must be vigilant. Each of the 23 countries represented here must be on guard for any signs of backsliding from their commitments,” Prince Abdul Aziz said.

“All OPEC+ partners must deliver on their pledges for the collective pledges to be sustained. Each country has to adhere to its commitment to restrain production along the agreed guidelines.”

The minister referred to the recent “low point” when American crude briefly traded below zero, but said the OPEC+ deal, bolstered by extra voluntary cuts from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, had helped the global market over the worst.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, has more than doubled in price since the cuts took effect. “Demand is returning as big oil-consuming economies emerge from pandemic lockdown,” Prince Abdul Aziz said. “Through our commitment to a proactive policy, within a cohesive and collective framework, we are restoring confidence and stability to global oil markets. Today, we have grounds to be cautiously optimistic about the future.”

Energy experts welcomed the deal, but echoed the minister’s caution. “This is an important success for OPEC+. It shows ability to deliver, willingness to address discipline, and coherence in the approach,” saidChristof Ruehl of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

“The problem is that the more OPEC+ succeeds, the easier it becomes for private producers to enjoy the fruits of its labor.”