Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia: Insufficient progress on women’s rights despite promises, says CEDAW submission by NGOs


There has been insufficient progress on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, says a report presented by three human rights NGOs to the 69th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), held from 19 February to 09 March 2018. The concluding observations of the 69th session of the CEDAW are to be published on 12 March.

ALQST, the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) prepared the submission based on the report “Saudi Arabia – Condemned to silence, the situation of women human rights defenders” published in January 2018 by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

The Observatory carried out a study based on in-depth documentary research conducted on Saudi news and institutional websites and more than a dozen long-distance interviews held from April to July 2017 with members of Saudi civil society - activists, researchers and journalists - living in different towns and cities in the country or abroad. The CEDAW submission concludes that “2016 and 2017 have seen numerous steps to improve the condition of women in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, most of them were minimal, if not cosmetic, while other lacked implementation.”

“As part of the development plan entitled Vision 2030 (intending to free the country from its dependence on oil), the increase of women’s presence in the work force appears as a necessary and calculated concession in the face of the freshly-empowered Crown Prince Mohamed ben Salman’s willingness to take strong action and implement economic and social reforms in Saudi Arabia,” says the submission.

Among the reforms are the right to vote and to be eligible for election, and the right to drive, which the submission labels “a façade to show the international community,” as well as the lack of commitment and the prevalent male guardianship system. Numerous examples of women arrested for driving or prevented from fully participating in elections are listed.

The report also says there is no space to defend the fundamental rights and freedoms of women. It discusses the legal framework in Saudi Arabia, which the NGOs say “is unfavourable towards the pursuit of campaigning activities to promote and protect human rights. This is all the truer when defending the rights of women. Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly and the right to effective recourse, is not guaranteed by law. Worse, exercising these rights and freedoms is hampered by explicitly repressive laws combined with vague provisions, which are open to discretionary interpretation by those responsible for overseeing their enforcement.”

The CEDAW submission concludes with detailed recommendations by ALQST, GCHR and FIDH to:

1. End the repression of women human rights defenders;

2. Guarantee an open environment that is favourable to those wishing to engage in defending women’s rights; and

3. Abolish the male guardianship system.


The submission is available in English and Arabic. Download the full report here.