The Thomas Reuters Foundation surveyed 550 experts on women’s issues, ranking the worst countries for women’s rights. Out of 195 countries, Saudi Arabia ranked as the fifth most dangerous country for women in terms of the risks they face in cultural and religious practices, and second worst in terms of economic access and workplace discrimination. To get a better understanding of the hardships of Saudi Arabia, this article examines 10 facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East and the home of Islam. While Saudi Arabia is known for its plentiful oil reserves, the country is also one of the most dangerous places to live in or travel to. Saudi Arabia is slowly improving in regards to women’s and children’s rights, but still has a lot of progress to make.
Facts about Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
- According to Human Rights Watch, by mid-2016, nearly all of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association founders were imprisoned and sentenced to nearly 10 years for peaceful protesting. This is a common issue in Saudi Arabia, as people are punished for expressing their beliefs. Journalists, protesters, non-Muslims and women take a huge risk when they express themselves or call for reforms.
- Non-Muslims are not allowed to worship in public or display religious items, such as the Bible or a crucifix. Expressing different religious beliefs can result in jail time or the death penalty. This law is to prevent Muslims from converting to a different religion.
- There is little to no justice in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system. Saudi Arabia does not have an official penal code; therefore, judges and prosecutors are allowed to improvise charges on the spot. In many instances, the suspect is not aware of the crime he or she is accused of, allowed access to evidence or allowed to have a lawyer support them during the trial. The Saudi religious establishment, ulama, believes there is no need for an official penal code because everything about law and punishment is stated in the Qur’an and Sunnah, the religious books of Islam.
- Women in Saudi Arabia face harsh restrictions, discrimination and punishment every day. Women are required to get permission from a man in order to do things such as travel, obtain a passport, work, sign contracts and get married or divorced. This man is known as the woman’s guardian and is usually a husband, father, uncle or brother. This makes it extremely difficult for women to feel safe and secure, especially because there is no law protecting women from their guardian. If a woman is a victim of domestic violence, she needs the male guardian’s permission to file the complaint, even if the complaint is against that man. However, in 2018, Saudi Arabia took a step forward by lifting the driving ban for women for the first time since 1990.
- One of the facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia is that there are no human rights groups. Human rights activists are imprisoned or sentenced to the death penalty for protesting or joining a human rights organization or group. The organization is usually shut down and banned from spreading awareness about their beliefs.
- Human Rights Watch reported that 48 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in the first third of 2018, half of them for non-violent crimes. There have been nearly 600 executions since 2014. One can be executed for a “crime” as small as protesting or showing too much skin if one is a woman.
- In many areas of Saudi Arabia, men are allowed to marry a girl once she reaches puberty. Fortunately, according to the Middle East Monitor, girls under the age of 17 now have to present a marriage request from the girl and her family before the marriage can take place. Preventing child marriage is a work in progress in Saudi Arabia.
- No one is not allowed to eat pork in Saudi Arabia. Muslims are not to eat pork in keeping with their religious beliefs. If a person is not a Muslim or is a foreigner, they are still expected to not consume pork in the country. Only food that meets the guidelines of Islam is allowed into Saudi Arabia.
- As of 2017, nine million foreigners work in service and clerical jobs in Saudi Arabia, accounting for more than half of the workforce. Many of these workers face punishment or abuse during their jobs. Some employers will take away passports and paychecks to hold workers against their will. If workers are caught trying to leave the country, they face serious consequences.
- Women are not allowed to work in a job that a man would traditionally do. This means that women are limited to working in the education or medical fields. On the bright side, 38 women were elected to council in December 2015 for the first time ever. This gives women more opportunities and freedoms. While gender restrictions are slowly improving, women are still required to cover their skin fully while working on the job.
These facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia show the challenges and improvements regarding human rights in the country. Women are gaining more independence and children are being allowed to live their childhoods freely. While there is a lot of progress to make, Saudi Arabia is taking steps towards becoming a more equal and free country.
– Kristen Uedoi