RIYADH: Saudi Arabia continues to make great strides in peace, justice and equality — hallmarks of a sustainable society. As the world celebrates UN Human Rights Day, Arab News looks back at the Kingdom’s achievements in 2020.
In recent years, Saudis have enjoyed significant advances in the area of human rights. The right for women to drive, the abolition of male guardianship over women and women’s ability to travel without male permission show that the Kingdom continues to make significant progress.
But equally important for human rights in the Kingdom was the easing of the sponsorship (kafala) system for migrant workers and contributions to the fight for gender equality.
In a statement marking Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, Saudi Human Rights Commission chief Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad said that the Kingdom under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been working to promote sustainable development, the rule of law, justice and equality.
“To this end, the Saudi leadership has implemented unprecedented human rights reforms, with more than 70 resolutions, and fulfilled all the commitments it made,” he said.
Al-Awwad said that this commitment reflects the support and attention that Saudi Arabia accords to human rights under its Vision 2030 reform program.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Saudi Arabia, King Salman ordered free treatment be provided to all coronavirus patients in government and private health facilities, even those in violation of residency laws.
The royal decree, born out of the king’s wish to put the health of citizens and residents first, and to ensure the safety of all, was delivered by the Saudi Health Minister, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, on March 30 — a move few countries were able to match.
“Saudi Arabia has given great importance and attention to fighting the pandemic both on the internal and external level,” Al-Awwad said.
In November, the Kingdom eased the sponsorship system for foreign expat workers, including contract restrictions that gave employers control over the lives of around 10 million migrant workers.
The new reforms will allow private sector workers to change jobs and leave the country without an employer’s consent.
Salma Al-Rashid, chief advocacy officer of the Al-Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women and Women 20 sherpa who has represented Saudi Arabia at the W20 since 2018, said that the G20 offered Saudi women unprecedented access to conversations that dictated their futures.
“The W20 this year allowed us to create a bridge between global and local conversations on what matters most to women and how we can ensure women’s economic empowerment,” she said.
According to a World Bank report released in January, the Saudi economy has made “the biggest progress globally toward gender equality since 2017.”
The study, which tracks how laws affect women in 190 economies, scored the Kingdom’s economy 70.6 points out of 100, a dramatic increase from its previous score of 31.8 points.
Issam Abu Sulaiman, the bank’s regional director for the GCC, said of the report: “Saudi Arabia, basically, has become one of the leaders in the Arab world in terms of women’s empowerment.”
Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the US, also commented on the past few years’ developments in women’s rights in the country.
“These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society. It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women,” she tweeted.
Hanan Al-Hamad, a Saudi human rights activist and opinion writer, told Arab News that the Kingdom was doing a “remarkable job” regarding the strengthening of human rights in the country.
“Congratulations to our civil society in which human rights have become a source of strength and pride,” she said.