How anti-harassment law of 2018 set the tone for the new Saudi Arabia

How anti-harassment law of 2018 set the tone for the new Saudi Arabia
Protection offered by Saudi Arabia’s 2018 anti-harassment law enabled women to gain new freedoms without hindrance. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 16 October 2020

How anti-harassment law of 2018 set the tone for the new Saudi Arabia

How anti-harassment law of 2018 set the tone for the new Saudi Arabia
  • The criminalization of sexual harassment in May 2018 was a watershed moment for Saudi women, leading to unprecedented reform
  • Some 5.5 million women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from sweeping reforms guarding their rights and safety at work

DUBAI: In the space of just a few years, the legal rights of Saudi women have fundamentally changed, opening up new freedoms of movement, the ability to choose where they want to live, and the right to pursue their own career aspirations for the first time.

Bold reforms implemented under the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 development plan have already led to significant growth in the number of women joining the labor force, from 18 percent in 2017 to 23 percent in 2018, according to World Bank figures.

Although this figure is still far lower than the average of 59 percent among member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it marks a significant turning point for a largely conservative society.

For this revolution to occur, vital legislation first had to be drafted to guarantee the rights and safety of women in the workplace. Key to this was the criminalization of sexual harassment.

The anti-harassment law of May 2018 defines sexual harassment as “all conduct of a sexual nature from one person to the other, including touching of the body, honor or modesty in any way, shape or form.” The definition also applies to electronic communications such as social media.




Bold reforms implemented under the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 development plan have already led to significant growth in the number of women joining the labor force. (AFP/File Photo)

According to the Shoura Council, Saudi Arabia’s formal consultative body that drafted the law, the aim is “to combat the crime of harassment, preventing it from occurring, applying punishment to the perpetrators, and protecting the victim in order to safeguard the individual’s privacy, dignity and personal freedom guaranteed by Islamic law and regulations.”

The statute on sexual harassment grants victims the right to anonymity, and allows courts to hand down punishments of up to two years in jail and maximum fines of SR100,000 ($26,500).

In the most severe cases, involving children or disabled victims, the law allows penalties of up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of SR300,000 ($80,000). The law also criminalizes inciting or assisting harassment and falsely reporting offenses.

This was a watershed moment for Saudi Arabia. With this strict legal deterrent in place, an avalanche of reforms could follow, empowering women to enter civic life, beginning in June 2018 with the lifting of the ban on them driving.

 

 

Other decrees soon followed, including amendments to the male guardianship system so that women over the age of 21 were free to leave the house unaccompanied, and the equalizing of women’s right to choose a place of residency.

Discrimination based on gender in employment was also prohibited, as were the dismissal of pregnant women and discrimination based on gender in accessing credit.

New childcare centers were established and subsidies made available to help more women leave the home.

Pension equality was also introduced by equalizing the retirement age for men and women, and mandating pension care credits for maternity leave.

An estimated 5.5 million Saudi women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from these reforms, and long-entrenched social norms are gradually coming undone.

Due to these rapid developments, the World Bank’s “Women, Business, and the Law 2020” report, published in April, recognized Saudi Arabia as the world’s top reformer in the last year.

“Saudi Arabia basically has become one of the leaders in the Arab world in terms of women empowerment,” Issam Abu Sulaiman, the World Bank’s regional director for the Gulf Cooperation Council, said at the time, the Saudi Press Agency reported.




An estimated 5.5 million Saudi women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from these reforms, and long-entrenched social norms are gradually coming undone. (AFP/File Photo)

The groundwork for this rapid social change was laid by the anti-harassment law, which has given women the confidence and legal protection they need to freely participate and contribute to society.

Now an amendment is being drafted to further strengthen the penalty for sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia to include the naming and shaming of offenders.

Shoura Council members believe that the threat of defamation will act as an even greater deterrent to misconduct than fines and imprisonment alone.

“Defamation is for the larger good of society,” Lina Almaeena, a member of the Shoura Council and co-founder of the Jeddah United Sports Co., told Arab News.

“It’s a deterrent that many countries have applied and that has proved effective in reducing harassment cases. The anti-sexual harassment law has proved effective in preventing misconduct.”




Lina Almaeena, a member of the Shoura Council and co-founder of the Jeddah United Sports Co. (Supplied)

By making the issue a matter of honor, it is felt that households will take greater care when educating their children about social conduct. “There’s going to be more awareness, and families will play a bigger role,” Almaeena said.

Before it can come into force, the draft amendment must first go before the Council of Ministers for endorsement and then be issued as a royal decree by King Salman.

“We are talking now about making a new amendment by adding a new article to the existing law. We are not talking about a new law,” Faisal Fadhil, a UK-educated legal expert and Shoura Council member, told Arab News.

Some observers believe strengthening the existing law will allow even more women to join the labor force without fear of harassment in the workplace.

“It would encourage more young girls and women to join the workforce with confidence, feeling protected, and feeling they’ll be supported if they’re faced with any harassment,” Maha Akeel, director of social and family affairs at the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told Arab News.




With this strict legal deterrent in place, an avalanche of reforms could follow, empowering women to enter civic life, beginning in June 2018 with the lifting of the ban on them driving. (AFP/File Photo)

No statistics are readily available on the incidence of sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia, largely due to past reluctance to report violations.

There is therefore limited data to demonstrate its prevalence or show the impact of legislation.

“Maybe we’ll see more reporting. Maybe we’ll see fewer public displays of harassment. It’s difficult to measure the impact, lacking factual studies and statistics,” said Akeel.

She nevertheless sees the threat of defamation as a potent weapon against harassment, which could prove especially effective in Saudi culture.

“Sometimes people fear the public naming and shaming more than financial penalties or even imprisonment … because it will harm their reputation,” Akeel said.

“We’re a conservative society, so it might be more of a deterrent than the punishments tried earlier.”

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Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya

Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya
Updated 14 May 2021

Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya

Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya
  • Due to the ongoing pandemic, many Saudis turn to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year as opposed to cash in hand

JEDDAH: As Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid Al-Fitr in their own unique ways, children in every nation tend to always steal the spotlight with their tireless demands for Eidiya money.

Similar to Halloween in the west, children wait eagerly for this time of the year so they can dress up, visit one household to the next, and receive as much Eidiya money (and chocolates) as possible.

However, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many Saudis turned to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year. Still, others prefer the old-fashioned way of handing out Eidiyas in cash while also taking COVID-19 health precautions into consideration.

Saudi dentist Jameela Al-Ghamdi, 29, said being deprived of family gatherings for Eid Al-Fitr last year was frustrating. 

“It was so strange to go through,” she told Arab News. “We never skipped visiting our families on such special occasions.”

She is now relieved because people in her family susceptible to the virus have received the vaccine jab and these special occasions can happen again. 

“I am so happy to dress up with my sisters and also visit family members I have not seen in an unfairly long time,” Al-Ghamdi said.

Her family, although mostly vaccinated, prefers to give out Eidiyas electronically, as Al-Ghamdi says she is a fan of technology. 

“We tried giving out Eidiyas through STC Pay last year and it was very quick, simple and convenient. No need to break down SR100 at minimarkets anymore,” she said.

Ali Mansour, a 33-year-old Saudi industrial engineer at Saudia airline, said the best part of Eid is visiting family. He also added the occasion is not the same without gatherings. Mansour’s family started giving out Eidiyas electronically long before the pandemic because of its convenience.

HIGHLIGHTS

•Similar to Halloween in the west, children wait eagerly for this time of the year so they can dress up, visit one household to the next, and receive as much Eidiya money (and chocolates) as possible. •However, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many Saudis turned to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year. Still, others prefer the old-fashioned way of handing out Eidiyas in cash while also taking COVID-19 health precautions into consideration.

“Way before the pandemic and the creations of such platforms like STC Pay, we gave out Eidiyas through bank transfers,” he told Arab News. “Electronic payments are not something new to us. My dad would always transfer the Eidiya into my account, never in cash.” He added that the last time he received Eidiya in cash was probably back in high school.

Young children are the most significant part of the Eid celebration, said Mansour, as they will receive Eidiyas in cash since they cannot use devices.

Saudi Lujain Al-Jehani, 27, said Eid Al-Fitr is extra special this year because people were deprived of the holiday gatherings last year.

“Due to the pandemic, we did not have the opportunity to celebrate together,” she told Arab News. “We are so excited and thrilled. We are going to prepare cakes and activities that we were deprived of last year.”

Al-Jehani’s family prefers to give out Eidiyas in person: “The experience is different, holding cash in your hand,” she said.

Al-Jehani added that most of the elderly in her family do not know how to use electronic payment platforms.

Saudi medical student Renad Bajodah, 25, said Eid celebrations are important experiences and will have a lasting impact on a child’s memory.

“Eid means joy to me. It means coming together and honoring the days of our lives, and celebrating after the completion of the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajodah told Arab News. 

“The excitement of Eid’s eve is what is most beautiful to me, seeing kids wearing their new pajamas all happy on the night of Eid. It also teaches parents how to give to their children. To give them the best experience and beautiful childhood memories.” 

While Bajodah’s family still prefers Eidiyas in cash, they sanitize them thoroughly before delivering in carefully closed envelopes. They like the “traditional old school style,” he said.

Saudi Yara Ahmad, 27, who works in the market research industry, said Eid Al-Fitr means a lot to her. The whole experience from new clothes, delicious food and candy, family gatherings and Eidiya money is something adults and children alike look forward to every year.

Electronic Eidiya did not bode well for her family which continues to distribute cash to children while keeping in mind the sanitization part and necessary precautions.

Saudi Salman Al-Otaibi, 32, who prefers the old-fashioned way of giving out Eidiyas while following hygienic measures, said a new voting poll for Eidiyas that has been circulating a week before Eid Al-Fitr takes away a special element.

“The idea has nothing to do with the purpose of Eidiyas and bringing a smile on children and adults’ faces,” he told Arab News. 

“Because it has become a contest and everyone is running after people in groups and social media sites to vote. I think it is far from what Eidiya is supposed to mean.”


Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to  be discovered’, says French envoy
Updated 14 May 2021

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to  be discovered’, says French envoy
  • Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, says Mayor Ahmed Al-Qathami

TAIF: “Treasure to be discovered,” were the words used by the French ambassador to the Kingdom describing the rose oil industry in Taif, after his recent visit to the 14th Taif Rose Festival held at Al-Radf Park and organized by the Taif Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ludovic Pouille toured the old town of Taif at night with representatives from the province and the Ministry of Culture, expressing his happiness to discover the vital market on the eve of the celebrations of Eid Al-Fitr, and to drink traditional coffee in the historic neighborhood of the capital of roses.

He also discovered the traditional professions in the old city of Taif, discussing with the mayor the tourist capacity of the city and opportunities to cooperate with France.

Mesmerized by the fragrance and the pink scenery around him, the envoy walked the roses’ stairway in the festival covered in roses from both sides, describing it as a “stairway to heaven.”

French Ambassador Ludovic Pouille

Dr. Ahmed Al-Qathami, mayor of Taif Province, said that the visit of the French envoy reflects the importance and reputation of Taif roses across borders, “one of the most important tools in promoting the Kingdom’s tourism, culture and economy.”

Al-Qathami told Arab News that Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, symbolizing its beauty thanks to their odor and perfume.

“Taif roses are a source of cultural inspiration to all Saudis for whom the roses are a way of life and a cultural destination that attracted dignitaries and important figures throughout history,” he added.

He added that the visit of the French ambassador indicates the depth of friendship and love he has for Saudi Arabia. “This visit reflects his knowledge and appreciation for the efforts made to sustain the Taif rose industry, and develop its products and promote them at local and global levels.”

Al-Qathami pointed out that Taif roses were, and still are, an “honorable image” for Taif province, and all the celebrations and festivals held in the past and the accompanying exhibitions contributed in shaping its identity as a cultural hub that helped in strengthening the
ties of communication between the city and those who love and admire it.

Adel Al-Nimri, a rose factory owner in Al-Hada, Taif, said that the prominent and important figures who visit Taif and admire the great efforts “give us the impetus to continue and improve the product to reach the highest standards of
production, and export them abroad after gaining widespread fame.”

He stressed the importance of caring for the Taif rose industry and teaching people about it for future generations, adding that Taif roses are known for their purity and fragrance.


Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success
Updated 13 May 2021

Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

RIYADH: Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif on Thursday conveyed the congratulations of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the personnel of the Ministry of Interior and security sectors on the success of security plans for the Umrah season and the advent of Eid Al-Fitr.

Prince Abdul Aziz, who is also the chairman of the Umrah Supreme Committee, expressed thanks to the leadership for the support that enabled the security sectors to perform their duties in this year’s exceptional Umrah season, expressing his pride in the efforts made by security men in the service of Umrah performers and visitors.

Muslims performed Eid Al-Fitr prayer throughout Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

In Makkah, the prayer was performed at the Grand Mosque and led by the Imam of the Grand Mosque Sheikh Saleh bin Abdullah bin Humaid. The prayer was attended by Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and a number of princes.

In Madinah, the prayer was performed at the Prophet’s Mosque. The prayer was attended by Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman.

The prayer was also performed in various regions and attended by regional governors and senior officials.

The imams who led the prayer congratulated Muslims on Eid Al-Fitr, praying to Allah to accept their fasting, prayers, charity and good deeds.


Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation

Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation
Updated 14 May 2021

Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation

Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation
  • The king ordered Wednesday that the hospital, designated for COVID-19 cases, which was gutted by fire in April be rebuilt
  • Saudi Arabia will take on critical cases to provide them with medical care at the king’s expense

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on Thursday expressed his country’s gratitude to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who ordered that a Baghdad hospital that was destroyed by fire, be reconstructed.
On Wednesday, King Salman ordered that the Ibn Al-Khatib hospital, which was gutted by fire on April 24 in the Iraqi capital, be rebuilt.
Al-Kadhimi conveyed his appreciation and thanked King Salman for his initiative and for the hospital donation.
Nearly 110 victims were injured and at least 82 people killed after a fire broke out at the hospital that was designated for COVID-19 patients.
The king’s directives were announced by Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Iraq that said “based on the ties of brotherhood, good neighborliness, and the historical relations between the two countries and peoples,” according to SPA.
The embassy said the gesture was King Salman’s gift to the Iraqi people and to support them following the fire incident.
Saudi Arabia also said it will take on critical cases to provide them with medical care in the Kingdom’s hospitals at the king’s expense.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates
Updated 13 May 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates

Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan has been the chief executive officer of the Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates (NCPD) since April 2016.

He heads a number of initiatives aimed at improving the management and efficiency of the sector’s supply chains, from farms to local and international consumers, and is involved in highlighting palm and date-related investment opportunities in areas such as services, technology, and bi-products.

Al-Nuwairan and his NCPD team have been working to transform the sector’s digital offering with the launch of electronic platforms covering aspects of the business including e-marketing, quality marks, government support, and subsidies.

Under his stewardship, the center has established strategic partnerships with companies such as Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC), Takamol Holding, and Taibah Valley along with other major international firms.

He sits on several government committees with sector interests and has participated in numerous international industry conferences and workshops.

Al-Nuwairan helped set up the Kingdom’s annual international dates conference, along with the International Council for Dates, the Saudi Dates Mark certification scheme, and a dates exhibition in Riyadh.

From July 2003 until joining the NCPD, he was an assistant professor at King Faisal University’s business school.

He gained a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester’s business school, specializing in supply chain management, a master’s degree in manufacturing management from Canada’s University of Windsor, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from King Faisal University, in Al-Ahsa.