Saudi NSHR chief criticizes Human Rights Watch report

Saudi women

A Saudi human rights official criticized the Human Rights Watch report regarding male guardianship over women in Saudi Arabia, saying that “the system aims to protect women and help them, and not impose restrictions, as portrayed.”

The US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report issued on Sunday that “The fact that Saudi women are still forced to get a male guardian’s permission to travel, work, or do anything else is a long-standing rights violation and a barrier to the government’s plans to improve the economy.”

The report, titled “Boxed in: Women in Saudi Arabia’s Male Guardianship System”, stated: “The Kingdom carried out a series of limited changes over more than ten years to ease restrictions on women. For example, women no longer need to get permission from a guardian to work.”

However the report also said Saudi Arabia has taken steps to lessen guardians’ control over women, including no longer requiring permission for women to work and passing a law criminalizing domestic abuse.

In 2013, then-King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shoura Council, his highest advisory body, and, in 2015, women voted and ran as candidates in municipal council elections for the first time.

The report adds: “Despite the fact that the reforms were a step in the right direction, they remain partial and incomplete. The male guardianship system remains largely in place, hindering and in some cases invalidating the efficacy of these reforms.”

Mufleh Al-Qahtani, president of the National Society for Human Rights, said: “This report confuses the traditions of the Saudi society and the policy of the Kingdom, which is keen to improve the status of women. It also confuses the laws related to male guardianship of women, which require authorities to modify or develop in accordance with the dominant traditions in the community and that may take time to change.”

In 2011, Saudi Arabia granted women the right to vote and run for local elections and in 2013, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shoura Council, his highest advisory body.

Christine Berkeley from the Human Rights Watch said: “The Kingdom will not be able to achieve Vision 2030, before annulling this system.

“Regarding traveling, Al-Qahtani said there are no obstacles for women wishing to travel, unless they have a family problem, in which case, that should be resolved first. It should be borne in mind that the Saudi society is conservative and some of the customs and traditions of the community take time to change, he said.