The Role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Toward CEDAW

POST WRITTEN BY: Awatef Alotaibi (LL.M. Dec. ’14)

The Constitution of Saudi Arabia provides in Article VIII that governance is based on justice, consultation and equality in accordance with Islamic law. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the principle of non-discrimination and proclaims that all persons are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind. Also, in 2000, the government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with, however, reservations on all provisions that are contrary to Islamic law.

Despite recognizing these human rights instruments, the government promulgated a law that every woman has to get permission from her father or husband or an adult-brother or even an adult son to study or to work. Without that permission, no school or university will accept her and, if she finds a job without the male’s permission, her job would be considered illegal. This law violates Article 15 of CEDAW, which provides that

State-Parties shall accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity. In particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals.

Committees of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia argue that this law originally comes not from religion, but from custom and tradition, and so has nothing to do with religion. Why we should maintain it when it violates international treaties?

After Saudi Arabia’s boom economy, the increase of education, and rise in the standard of living, the Kingdom’s development plans seek to empower women economically, socially and politically. Although these plans will take time to be applied, the Kingdom nowadays encourages woman to become more effective in the community. Admitting them in the Shura Council is a proof of that.

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