Welcome to the 21st century: Saudi Arabia makes history with a law against abusing women

THREE months back, pointed out that:

It’s a well known fact that Saudi’s record on women’s rights is stupefyingly abysmal. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report in 2009 placed the country in 130th place (out of 134 nations) when it comes to gender parity. Although women have ‘earned’ the right to ride bikes and vote in elections, they still cannot drive or even travel without the permission of a male guardian. In fact, Saudi has set-up a tracking system that alerts men with a text message when their wife has left the country.

It’s no surprise that a deeply misogynistic culture translates into high levels of domestic violence for Saudi women. According to Saudi reporter Samar Fatany, who cites studies from The National Family Safety Program, one in six women experience emotional, verbal or physical violence every single day. More than 90% of this abuse is propagated by their husbands and relatives.

Reports like this – and there have been hundreds written about Saudi Arabia’s entrenched misogyny – have apparently stung the authorities into doing something about the problem, and today the Internet is buzzing with the news the Muslim kingdom’s cabinet has passed a law prohibiting domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women for the first time in its history.

The ban on physical or sexual violence is to apply both at home and within the workplace.

The legislation not only makes domestic violence a punishable crime for the first time but also provides treatment and shelter for victims of abuse and holds law enforcement agencies accountable for investigating and prosecuting allegations of abuse.

The ban includes penalties of a maximum12 month jail sentence and fines of up to $13,000.

The cabinet reportedly said in a statement:

All civilian or military employees and all workers in the private sector who learn of a case of abuse — by virtue of their work — shall report the case to their employers when they know it. The employers shall report the case to the Ministry of Social Affairs or police when they know it.

A campaign calling for an end to violence against women was run for the first time earlier in the year, using an image of a woman wearing a hijab with her eyes visible through slits in the veil.


Domestic violence has previously been considered legally a private matter in the Arab state, until the poster was released to encourage more open discussions of the issue.

In the domestic violence advert, one of the woman’s eyes appears blackened and bruised, with the slogan “Some things can’t be covered up” written in Arabic underneath.

The campaign aims to:

Provide legal protection for women and children from abuse in Saudi Arabia.

It endorsed by the King Kahalid Charitable Foundation, which described “the phenomenon of battered women in Saudi Arabia” as “much greater than expected”.

But as Jane Martinson pointed out in a piece in the Guardian, domestic violence campaigns won’t work unless women can actually can see them.

The women most likely to be affected by the violence it [the campaign] depicts are unlikely to be able to see it without permission from the men who rules their lives … The internet, where these women could see the image, is heavily censored … Since the Internet is largely under government control in Saudi Arabia and that women’s lives are so cripplingly controlled by their male guardians, what guarantees that they are even aware of this campaign’s existence?


13 responses to “Welcome to the 21st century: Saudi Arabia makes history with a law against abusing women”

  1. L.Long says:

    Laws against violence to women! Why am I not impressed?
    In the USA it aint nearly as bad and it is still something most get away with.
    When the woman goes for help and they are in a safe house then the abuser has to HUNT them down.
    In saudi ‘In fact, Saudi has set-up a tracking system that alerts men with a text message when their wife has left…’ the abuser is told were the wife is.
    I heard that the burqa will sometimes have a shadowed veil over the eyes because they are so sexually alluring, now we see the real reason, to hide the bruises.
    Yep! I’m really impressed!

  2. Matt+Westwood says:

    “I heard that the burqa will sometimes have a shadowed veil over the eyes because they are so sexually alluring, …”

    You can’t deny that Saudi women have perfected the art of eye-makeup to an exquisite degree – not that westerners are likely to see those eyes in any normal social situation.

    When I was there, I met only two Saudi women, both times in a professional capacity: a nurse who gave me a blood test and an air stewardess who offered me a date (the fruit, you fool) on an internal flight I had cause to take. Both were covered to such an extent that not even their eyes were visible.

    Oh yes, and there was the time I was walking through a backstreet in Khobar and met a group of women coming the other way. They took the opportunity of physically assaulting me as they went past (westerner in western clothing, fair game, yeah?) during which I had more than one punch in the balls. Likewise, they were completely covered in black garments, and likewise, I could not see their eyes.

    There were times when we were invited into the houses of the locals. At no time did we ever meet the females of these households, who lived “inside” – except one time Saadi brought his 6-year-old daughter out to meet us. I am led to understand that this was a considerable and rare honour.

  3. beanfeast says:

    And how many female witnesses will be required to testify against a single man so that their testimony is considered valid? Then there is the matter of whether a prosecution is possible if the victim’s face was covered and in no way visible to anyone who might have actually witnessed the assault.

    It seems that this might be a rather toothless piece of legislation, unless I am failing to appreciate the finer points of Islamic jurisprudence.

  4. Trevor Blake says:

    “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places AND BEAT THEM; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” – Quran 4:34

    Tell me more about how this Muslim nation is against abusing women. Please, please tell me that the Quran doesn’t say what it says. I’d love to hear it.

  5. AT says:

    We have Allah given right to beat our woman, no one can take that away from us. AllahuAkbar.

  6. Matt+Westwood says:

    I have the Westwood-given right to beat the shit out of wife-beaters, particularly Muslim ones. Run and hide.

  7. Charlie says:

    Ah geez folks, so maybe implementing this law in Saudi Arabia may be difficult, but lets just all be pleased that they are at least moving in the right direction. The way you all respond, it is almost like you are determined to be displeased, as though since the law isn’t 100% perfectly enforceable it is worthless to even try it at all. Just shut-up with your whining, and sing a happy song that women are finally getting some rights and protections with Saudi law!!!

  8. r says:

    We have Allah given right to beat our woman, no one can take that away from us. AllahuAkbar.

    I can take that right away from you. If Barry would be so kind as to forward me your IP address I’ll happily pay you a visit and teach you what your father, imam, and fucking prophet didn’t.

    Why do I hate Islam? Ask AT!

  9. remigius says:

    Er r, that’s what I wanted to say. It’s almost as if I fucked up putting my name in the comment box!

  10. barriejohn says:

    I had assumed that AT was joking!

  11. Angela_K says:

    I was hoping AT was being ironic but there being so many religious wackos out there that incredibly have a few brain cells to use a computer, I’m not so sure.

  12. remigius says:

    Oh, I get it now. Beating women is funny. Silly me 🙂

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