These are the Demands of Saudi Women
In the words of prisoner of conscience Waleed Abulkhair, “For He who grants you freedom, it is forbidden for one of His own to take it back.”
It never came to me as a surprise that the Saudi women would rise up in revolt, for I have long believed it to be a foregone conclusion, after years of oppression, marginalization, subordination, and obliterating their identity in all regards. There is nothing strange or surprising in the discovery that people’s endurance of pain is limited.
Saudi women are rising up and demanding what's theirs
Saudi women—these “harem women” who have always been believed to be good for nothing but marriage, housekeeping, childrearing, and blind obedience to their husbands—are freeing themselves of the enslavement of men. They are setting forth, demanding their rights to equality and equity, bearing within them a true wish to end the discrimination that is brought against them in the name of religion, and in the name of law. What law is this? Though Saudi Arabia has itself been a signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 2000—and though not much has changed in terms of the status of women—yet increasingly, they have become more aware, stronger, and more cultured. No longer will anyone deprive them of their rights without facing the repercussions of the current mobilization, and the determined calls to put an end to this tragic situation.
In Saudi Arabia, we as women are faced with two major challenges:
- The lack of an established and recognized feminist rhetoric, and the lack of true female access to media platforms to relay female experiences through female voices.
- The difficulty in convincing certain people of joining the campaign, and in educating them on their rights. Yet, in spite of this, women were able to spark an electronic revolution in defiance of society and religious figures, drawing the media’s attention to their issues, after they had been left to gather dust for years in the offices of human rights organizations.
The following are the recommendations* that were offered in the stakeholders’ reports for the 2013 Universal Periodic Review of Saudi Arabia. The recommendations have been compiled by independent Saudi female activists, and represents the true demands of Saudi women today:
- Harmonization of local laws and policies with the commitments of Saudi Arabian government to international and regional human rights conventions.
- Urgent measures must be taken to increase women’s access to decision-making positions, to reach a minimum 30% ratio in all public offices and positions.
- The Nationality Law should be amended to allow Saudi mothers to transfer their nationality to their husbands and children.
- Non-governmental organizations and interest groups should be allowed to practice freely and independently. The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression should be protected.
- Saudi Arabia should revoke the institutionalized guardianship system as a prerequisite for women’s access to identification, documentation, education, health, work, or other matters.
- The gender-segregation policy should be reviewed. No official should refuse to accept women citizens’ access to services or resources based on the gender-segregation policy, particularly when no other alternatives are available for women in distress.
- Women’s autonomy should be granted unconditionally; including through the lifting of the driving ban, access to unconditional ownership and ability to rent, which are crucial for women’s security and safety.
- Codification of personal status codes should be a priority to grant women equal status in marriage and family. Shared authority in the family should be enacted and enforced instead of husbands’ exclusive authority over the family’s decision making and the children lives.
- A law and a national strategy on combating violence against women are necessary to protect women and deter abusers. A registry of violence cases and publications of research findings are crucial for prevention and management.
- Deviation from social norms and mores should not have legal consequences. Acts of legal offenses should be differentiated from acts of personal preferences and individual choices of moral behaviors and attitudes. Exposing women to risk of retribution by their families due to individual acts of personal choices such as gender mixing or choice of residence away from home should be avoided due to risk of their safety and security.
- The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Interior should collaborate to release women who finished their sentences and victims of domestic abuse into safe transient houses and encourage women to lead independent, safe lives away from the abuse of their families.
- Migrant workers should be protected by abolishing the sponsorship system and improving the effective access of women migrant workers to meaningful redress mechanism.