Saudi Arabia

The cleric who heads the Saudi morality police said he is taking steps to rein in the force, the latest move by authorities aimed at improving the position of women in Saudi society amid a public outcry in social media.Sheik Abdulatif al-Sheikh, appointed by King Abdullah in January to head the religious police, told The Wall Street Journal that he plans to distribute guidelines to all members of his force making clear that they don't have the power to arrest or interrogate Saudi citizens, or to attend trials.

Saudi Arabia is planning to establish a work-zone to be staffed exclusively by women. With women facing many barriers to joining the country's workforce, experts wonder if the zones will only reinforce segregation.

Women make up more than 60 percent of high school graduates in Saudi Arabia, but represent just 15 percent of the country's workforce. Many of them go abroad to earn an advanced degree, only to return home unable to find a job.

On 9 May 2012, Manal al-Sharif was awarded the Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway. This came shortly after al-Sharif was honored as one of TIME’s100 Most Influential People in the World at a Gala in New York City. Such events have given rise to a pattern: just as numerous pictures and videos of activists attending various conferences and receiving numerous awards surface, waves of criticism pour in. Their motives are viewed with suspicion, worthiness is questioned, and a movement’s progress is reassessed.

Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the Violence is not our Culture Campaign, and Justice for Iran are pleased to announce the release of a new publication: Mapping Stoning in Muslim Contexts. This report locates where the punishment of stoning is still in practice, either through judicial (codified as law) or extrajudicial (outside the law) methods.   

As the world prepares for the 2012 Olympics, the Saudi government is systematically discriminating against women in sports and physical education, and has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics, with no penalty from the international Olympic authorities, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make ending discrimination against women in sports in the kingdom a condition for Saudi Arabia’s participation in Olympic sporting events, including the 2012 London Games.

I realize that this is another very sensitive subject, but I would like to make an important point in order to dispel any confusion or misunderstanding. When I discuss a matter having religious implications, I do not mean to criticize the divine Islamic religion itself nor the positive achievements realized by Saudi Arabia, of which I can only express admiration, respect and my sincere devotion. However, I will criticize the wrongful practice of the religion when it betrays Islam's fundamental principle of human rights.

Wajeha al-Huwaider is perhaps the best-known Saudi campaigner for women’s rights, human rights and democracy. She has protested energetically against the kingdom’s lack of formal laws (the Koran is it) and basic freedoms and in particular against the guardianship system, under which every female, from birth to death, needs the permission of a male relative to make decisions in all important areas of life—education, travel, marriage, employment, finances, even surgery. In 2008 a video of her driving a car, which is forbidden for women in Saudi Arabia, created a sensation when it was posted on YouTube. Al-Huwaider is a strong supporter of the June 17 Movement, which calls on Saudi women to start driving on that date, and made the celebrated YouTube video of its co-founder, Manal al-Sherif, jailed for nine days in May for driving. While this interview was in preparation, she was briefly detained by the police when she tried to visit Nathalie Morin, a French-Canadian woman held captive with her children by her Saudi husband.

The Violence is Not our Culture (VNC) Campaign welcomes long awaited and recent reforms announced by King Abdullah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz Al Saud, that promise to gives Saudi Arabian women the rights to vote and run for office in municipal council elections, and to become full voting members of the next Shura council. The promise to increase women’s participation in civic life is a tribute to women’s efforts on the ground who have been campaigning inside the country, despite strict and rigid opposition.

AL-KHOBAR — In view of the popular campaign for allowing women to drive in the Kingdom, the Shoura Council is thoroughly reconsidering the issue, said Dr. Misha’l Mamdooh Al-Ali, Chairman of the Council’s Human Rights Committee. Allowing women to drive does not conflict with Islamic law, he said, adding that the majority of people oppose women driving based on tradition and customs. “It has nothing to do with religion,” Al-Ali was quoted by Al-Hayat Arabic daily as saying.

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