MENA women: opportunities & obstacles in 2014

This piece was written for an anual publication by the Wislon’s Center on women in the MENA Region:

mena_women_opportunities_obstacles_2014 1_0With smaller steps taken in the past, the year of 2014 is expected to be a potentially promising year for Saudi women. In the October 2013 second universal periodic review of Saudi Arabia’s human rights status, I submitted recommendations in the stakeholder’s report to the UN Human Rights Council. Out of the 12 recommendations, six of them—including amending the Nationality Act, lifting of the driving ban, and introducing steps to allow easier access for women to legal counsel and redress—are already under review by the relevant Saudi authorities.

During 2013, women lawyers were allowed to obtain permits to practice in Saudi courts, and a new anti-violence law was finally enacted. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice made two important decisions: to allow women to use their national photo identification cards as proof of identity in courts without the need for a male relative to verify their identity and to assign special family courts in Riyadh. These courts will expect a dramatic reduction in the number of review cases. Moreover, the Ministry of Justice has established punitive actions for judges and officials who violate the new regulations. This year also marks the first occasion of Saudi women participating in municipal elections.

While much more is still needed to empower women to realize their full rights and potential, it is important to highlight the actions of a handful of activists who strived, and continue to strive, to resist gender discrimination in all its forms. The October 26 driving campaign, for instance, not only gained significant international exposure, but created a global and national discourse on the position of women in Saudi society as symbolized by the iconic driving ban. The simple yet powerful theory of Margaret Mead—“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”—has been, again, validated.


The full report can be viewed here

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