From protection to prevention, how Saudi Arabia’s stance on violence against women has changed

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Updated 24 November 2021

From protection to prevention, how Saudi Arabia’s stance on violence against women has changed

  • The Kingdom is empowering women by raising awareness on new protection laws, providing clear channels for complaints

JEDDAH: To commemorate the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, let’s explore how Saudi Arabia’s progress in strengthening laws on violence against women and preserving their rights.

In 1979, the UN adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as the international bill of women’s rights, comprehensively addressing what constitutes women’s rights. 

In 1999, the UN General Assembly officially designated Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. On this occasion, governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations work to raise public awareness on the issue.

Since 1991, 187 countries have endorsed the CEDAW, adopting it as the legally binding international treaty that requires them to abolish discrimination against women by providing them with the same access and opportunities as their male counterparts.

According to UN figures, fewer than 40 percent of women who experience violence seek help of any sort. One-third of women aged 15 and above worldwide have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, non-partner, or both at least once in their lifetime.

There’s still a long way to go to change these figures. To date, only two-thirds of the world’s countries have outlawed domestic violence, while 37 countries worldwide still exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution if they are married to or eventually marry the victim; 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence.

In the past two decades, Saudi Arabia has made a significant effort to empower women through different initiatives that address matters of concern. In 2005, and by royal decree, the National Family Safety Program was established. The program established foundations of an aware and safe community, protecting and defending individual rights and helping victims of domestic abuse.

The program has come a long way since its establishment. Dr. Maha Almuneef, the founder and executive director of the NFSP, told Arab News that the program has gone through several stages since its initiation, and each step played a pivotal role in paving the way for legislation and an extensive collaborative effort between civil society, business, and government agencies in the Kingdom.

“The first stage I’d like to call the recognition stage, where we recognize the problem, one that was considered a taboo, and recognize it as a major public health issue and not simply a family dispute. This period spanned approximately 10 years, where we focused on awareness, advocacy, changing the mindset from a family dispute and taboo subject to a public health issue that is affecting the health and well being of women,” said Dr. Almuneef.

The next stage was the legislative stage. After recognizing the problem and finding ways to deal with the taboo subject, in 2013, the Law of Protection from Abuse was issued with 17 articles addressed.

“There’s a political will to fix the issue after conducting all the necessary research. The law that was issued to criminalize domestic violence and is one of the strongest in the Middle East, with fines and imprisonment. If and when the offense is repeated, the punishment is doubled according to article 13,” said Dr. Almuneef.

By 2016, the program moved to the prevention stage through various women empowerment laws that elevated their status politically, socially, economically.

These changes, according to the director, are the first steps to not simply protecting women, but to also prevent the onset of abuse towards them through empowerment.

The Kingdom has shifted its efforts from protecting women to preventing the act from happening by realizing the fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal: “To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Last November, the Saudi Public Prosecution Office issued new penalties for abuse against women that included imprisonment and hefty fines for any physical, psychological, or sexual assault against women in the Kingdom. The Violence Against Women laws are some of the strictest in the region, with the Public Prosecution Office mandating a minimum jail sentence of no less than one month and up to five years.

Assault and harassment penalty fines reach as high as SR300,000 ($ 80,000).

Lawyer Waleed bin Naif told Arab News: “The laws and regulations issued in the Kingdom guaranteeing women’s rights are constantly evolving. A woman’s silence about claiming her rights does not mean the forfeiture of her rights if she demands it.

“A case I recently handled was concerning a woman physically assaulted by her husband, where the court found the defendant guilty and imprisoned him for a month.”

He added: “With that being said, the Saudi judicial system today ensures women’s right to represent themselves in criminal cases of violent abuse and assault, without the need to bring a Mahram (legal guardian). Only her presence is required to submit the complaint before it is referred to Public Prosecution, where the perpetrator is summoned for interrogation.”

One of the ways Saudi Arabia is empowering women is by raising awareness on new protection laws, providing clear channels for complaints, and moving away from complex to simplified and confidential bureaucratic procedures.

Saudi efforts to eradicate violence against women include preparing civil workers with the tools and training to coordinate with the concerned authorities when supporting victims of abuse.

With the program’s backing and various initiatives to empower women, Saudi women have greatly benefited from economic legal reforms, training initiatives, and programs. They have been given the tools to not only protect themselves, but also allow them to walk away unscathed due to the sheer number of entities and agencies that support women, especially the most vulnerable. 

Dr. Almuneef believes that these achievements are significant and have further protected women from discrimination and abuse, but there is still more to be done.

The NFSP partnered with the UN Development Program and made significant achievements in capacity-building programs to promote mental and physical health and social well-being. It also provides practitioners with critical knowledge and diverse skills to deal with domestic violence cases.

This initiative has enhanced the NFSP’s training programs to entice and support qualified professionals to handle domestic violence cases.

“Since its initiation in 2005, we’ve been in close contact with international agencies, whether it be UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women or the World Health Organization. Recently, there has been a major collaboration between the UNDP and NFSP in terms of building capacities and training professions on how to empower women, support them and deal with cases of violence against women,” said Dr. Almuneef.

“We could see a continuous rise in abuse cases in the next five to 10 years. In Saudi Arabia, the expected rise will not be attributed to the worsening of the situation, on the contrary, it will be due to women raising the issue with relevant authorities, better documentation, quicker responses and interventions,” said Dr. Almuneef, adding that women now have a better understanding of their rights due to the laws that empower and support them.

With the continued collaborative effort between relevant authorities, any complaint on the NSFP’s hotline receives an immediate response from law enforcement, the Health Ministry, and others to ensure the case is dealt with according to its severity.

According to the WHO, COVID-19-induced lockdowns increased the risk of violence against women. In a report, it said: “Stress, the disruption of social and protective networks, loss of income and decreased access to services all can exacerbate the risk of violence for women.”

Last year, official statistics found that cases of abuse in adults constituted the vast majority of recorded cases, where 2,318 instances of abuse against women were recorded in Saudi Arabia. 

Of them, 77 percent were physical abuse, 12.7 percent were psychological abuse, 7.8 percent of the cases involved neglect, and 2.4 percent were sexual assault. For more on the updated rules and regulations, visit the official website for the Ministry of Justice.


Saudi authorities: 4 dead, 48 injured after bus collision in Madinah province

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudi authorities: 4 dead, 48 injured after bus collision in Madinah province

  • The bus carrying 45 passengers collided with a truck
  • Madinah, Makkah and Qassim authorities assisted victims

RIYADH: A collision between a bus and truck left four people dead in Saudi Arabia, authorities reported on Friday.

The bus, which was carrying 45 passengers, collided with a truck on Al-Hijrah highway, in Madinah province.

The crash happened just after the town of Al-Yutamah, around 90km from Madinah city.

Some of those injured were treated at the scene of the crash before being transferred to local hospitals.

The multi-province operation to deal with the incident featured over 20 ambulances and advanced care units from Madinah, supported by eight units from Makkah and another three from Qassim, according to Khaled Al-Sehali, a Saudi Red Crescent Authority spokesperson.

Okaz newspaper said ambulances were called at 11:27pm on Thursday, though authorities did not confirm exactly when the accident occurred.

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The busy route, which underwent refurbishment more than two years ago, is one of the main road links between the provinces of Makkah and Madinah.

Pilgrims and other worshipers often use the route to visit the Two Holy Mosques: The Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Photos from the scene show a red Bonluck bus with extensive damage to the right front and side, its windshield torn off.

In 2019, thirty-five pilgrims died on the same highway near the village of Al-Akhal after their bus collided with a loader. Those on the bus were expats in the Kingdom and of Asian and Arab nationalities.

Saudi Arabia had 12,317 traffic deaths in 2019, according to World Health Organization estimates.


Saudis prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudis prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations

  • Egypt, UAE, Maldives and Austria most popular travel destinations for Saudi travelers abroad post pandemic

JEDDAH: Year after year, holidaymakers in Saudi Arabia prefer revisiting their favorite holiday destinations, and research shows that Saudis are not breaking away from their pre-pandemic patterns anytime soon.

According to new research from Marriott Bonvoy, the travel loyalty program encompassing hotels, resorts, home rentals, and experiences across 30 brands in 138 countries, 12 percent of Saudi travelers have revisited the same country 10 times or more. In contrast, 30 percent returned to the same country five times or more before the onset of the pandemic last March.

International tourism has always been the preferred way of vacationing for many Saudis, with Arab countries leading in many categories.

“I would normally prefer my getaway destination to be familiar and cozy, somewhere I can call my second home. I like walking down the street to a coffee shop that knows my order, and hiking a trail alongside a river I have memorized,” said 29-year-old Abrar Abulfaraj from Jeddah.

The habitual nature of Saudi travelers shows that even post-pandemic, just 21 percent of those traveling abroad would opt for exploring a new vacation spot. 

Abulfaraj added: “Only due to the pandemic have I become adamant to visit new destinations, (have) new adventures, and appreciate more the luxury of traveling abroad as soon as the coast is clear.”

It is worth noting that the current health measures still being exercised around the world to manage the pandemic also contribute to Saudi travelers’ decisions.

While the following countries have always been staples, many elements come into play when deciding on a trip abroad, including accommodation, cuisine, language, route, currency exchange, and guaranteed weather.

As of 2021, 84 percent expressed their intention to go on a trip in the next 12 months, compared to the 8 percent who plan not to, and the remaining 8 percent are still on the fence.

Post-pandemic statistics show that Egypt will be the No. 1 getaway destination, with 33 percent of travelers intending to visit the country.

I would normally prefer my getaway destination to be familiar and cozy, somewhere I can call it my second home. I like walking down the street to a coffee shop that knows my order, and hiking a trail alongside a river I have memorized.

Abrar Abulfaraj

Noha Yousef, a private-sector worker in Riyadh, told Arab News that getting back on planes and flying to her favorite destinations has revived the sense of adventure in her.

“My family has been visiting Cairo ever since I can remember and it’s always the first stop to any destination. Whether it was Europe or the US, even Bali once, Cairo is where I head to first and I visit it at least twice a year,” said Yousef.

“We’re creatures of habit and once you find something or somewhere that’s comfortable, you’ll keep going back to it because it’s where you enjoy yourself most of the time when you’re away. Cairo to me has always been a place of adventure, there’s always something new to experience. 

“Whether you’re wandering in the alleyways of the old town or zigzagging in the double-parked side roads in the heart of the city, headed to the newest attraction, there’s always something to do and you can’t beat the Egyptian hospitality.”

The second most popular travel destination for Saudi travelers is the UAE, with 29 percent planning on flying there for a much-needed break.

The language, food and proximity of the UAE to Saudi Arabia make it an ideal vacation choice.

Farther away favorites are the Maldives and Austria, respectively, with 15 and 12 percent of Saudi travelers considering them for their next trip.

While some embark on adventurous trips and immerse themselves in new cultures and experiences, research shows that most Saudis traveling abroad opt for familiar and previously visited holiday destinations.

Neal Jones, chief sales and marketing officer of Marriott International, said: “We know there is pent-up demand for travel and this research demonstrates the impact the pandemic is continuing to have on global travel trends.

“The figures suggest that post-pandemic, Saudi Arabian holiday makers are seeking out tried and trusted destinations where they know exactly what to expect — to be able to make the most out of a long-awaited holiday abroad and to avoid any surprises after 18 months of turmoil and uncertainty.”


Saudi ministry signs deal for training of people with disabilities

Updated 26 November 2021

Saudi ministry signs deal for training of people with disabilities

RIYADH: Acting Riyadh Gov. Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdulaziz sponsored the signing of an agreement to provide more than 500 jobs to people with disabilities.
The agreement between the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, the Technical and Vocational Training Corp., and the Sa3ee foundation will see the latter provide job training to people with disabilities registered with the ministry.
The training is also intended to improve the recipients’ standing in society, increase their independence, and help achieve the goals of Vision 2030 reform plan.


KSrelief provides aid in Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan

Updated 26 November 2021

KSrelief provides aid in Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan

BALOCHISTAN: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center recently distributed 1,700 bags of winter provisions to the needy groups in the Loralai district of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, benefiting 11,900 people.
In Yemen, KSrelief’s mobile medical clinics recently provided treatment to 351 patients in the Hajjah governorate. Meanwhile, Al-Jada Health Center outlets in the governorate provided treatment to 1,270 people in a week.
In Jordan, KSrelief continues to provide medical services to Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp, with its clinics there recently treating 529 patients in a day.


Visitors flocking to rare bird collection in Riyadh’s Salam Park

Updated 25 November 2021

Visitors flocking to rare bird collection in Riyadh’s Salam Park

  • Visitors can find more than 50 different bird species in the garden, including scarlet macaws, cockatiel, white peacocks, cockatoos, pionus parrots and many more

RIYADH: Visitors are flocking to Salam Park’s bird garden, part of Riyadh Season’s 14 zones, where colorful exotic parrots have found a new home.

The zone, which opened on Nov. 19, has been well received by visitors, with thousands of people marveling at the winged creatures on display.

Visitors can find more than 50 different bird species in the garden, including scarlet macaws, cockatiel, white peacocks, cockatoos, pionus parrots and many more.

The owner of the garden, Ahmed Khoja, has raised and trained birds for 15 years. He told Arab News that he transformed his hobby into a business in 2016.

“We witnessed a great turnout from visitors and everyone was pleased with the efforts that we are putting in. The turnout is now huge as we get about 700 to 1,000 visitors per day,” Khoja said.

“The popularity in Riyadh Season is more than expected. We have 80 to 100 visitors every 15 minutes and 100 to 300 people waiting in line to enter the garden, which is very surprising,” he added. 

Mohammed Awaji, a 13-year-old parrot trainer, used the opportunity to take part in Riyadh Season and hone the skills he has developed for more than two years.

“A lot of visitors here are passionate about parrots, and I feel like this place is perfect for people with this kind of hobby. We are striving to raise more awareness about animal culture. So far, visitors are conscious and committed to precautions,” Awaj said.

He added that some of the parrot species are exotic and rare and that within Saudi Arabia, Salam Park is the only place where they can be viewed.

“Sitting on my shoulder, we have a cacatua moluccensis, one of the rarest parrots. Its price is estimated between $50,000 and $150,000. This bird is native to Indonesia,” Awaji said, describing the trained salmon-crested cockatoo perched on his shoulder.

When people enter the bird garden, they arrive among a variety of visitors, including locals, foreigners, children and people with disabilities. 

Sultan Al-Otaibi, a visitor with down’s syndrome, told Arab News how excited and happy he was to touch and play with birds, and said that people with the condition are particularly fond of animals.

“The birds are so colorful and beautiful, especially the red ones, and the place is amazing. I touched all the birds. Without fear, I placed them on my arm. I want to come every day,” he added.

Manar Mohammed, a Saudi visitor, told Arab News that it was her first time seeing many of the birds within the Kingdom.

“My three-year-old daughter had so much fun here because she loves animals, and this kind of activity was much needed in Riyadh Season. The bird collection is enormous, and most of them look different to what we are used to seeing,” she said.

Mary Jane, a visitor from the Philippines, told Arab News that the Riyadh Season far exceeded her expectations and helped her feel less homesick after she reconnected with some of the native fauna of her homeland.

“I couldn’t imagine how beautiful it is. Riyadh Season met the expectations of their slogan, ‘Imagine More!’ It’s the first time I’ve seen these birds for a long time. It was nice to find this kind of activity in our second home, Saudi Arabia,” Jane said.

The garden is one of the activities included in the Salam Tree zone. Salam Tree, which means the tree of peace, is included among the free zones as part of Riyadh Season in 2021. Visitors can book tickets from Riyadh Season’s website to visit the garden.