The Vision 2030 Saudi Arabia Reform Plan: Women Human Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia cease to exist




Women in Saudi Arabia have been for a long time suffering in silence under the patriarchal society and male-dominated decision-making authoritarianism on all levels. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has been documenting and highlighting cases of women activists and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) since 2011. Thirty out of 100 of the WHRDs’ cases recorded by GCHR from the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region were of Saudi WHRDs, making Saudi Arabia one of the top Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries targeting women rights activists and defenders, according to our reports. Yet, it is believed that many cases have gone undocumented due to the closed civic space and the multi-layered patriarchal system that normalised the inequality and made gender-based discrimination permissible. Women who dared to defy the norms, and stand up for their rights are often subjected to various types of threats and targeting not only for their human rights activities but because of their fundamental identities as women.

Saudi Arabia is the fifth country on top of the list of the world’s most dangerous country for women. The evidence-based survey’s results review six key areas including health care, discrimination, culture traditions, sexual violence, and non-sexual violence, as well as human trafficking. The survey results conclude discrimination is the main pressing issue facing women in Saudi Arabia, where thematically Saudi Arabia was ranked second after Afghanistan in discriminating against women. “This includes job discrimination; an inability to make a livelihood, property or inheritance rights; a lack of access to education and to adequate nutrition.” Consequently, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 138 out of 144 countries for its wide gender gap - the Kingdom has even scored lower in Political participation and opportunities coming in the 140th position on the global chart.

The guardianship system is one of the main discriminatory tools used in Saudi Arabia to box in women within the legal framework of system of male superiority and decision-making on women’s behalf. The simple decisions of traveling, studying and accessing healthcare as well as marrying are bound by the approval of the male guardian. “Women regularly face difficulty conducting a range of transactions without a male relative, from renting an apartment to filing legal claims,” according to a Human Rights Watch report. This authoritarian system is just a sample of bigger authoritarian policies embodied in the government’s tactics to target women’s rights activists and defenders.

Despite promises of reform made in the ambitious Vision 2030 plan, which has a stated ambition for Saudi Arabia to be “the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment powerhouse, and the hub connecting three continents.” The decision to allow women to drive was not based on justice but on economics, hence the warnings sent to WHRDs and activists to keep quiet about women’s rights and just celebrate the granting of the right to drive.

GCHR has repeatedly raised the alarmed about the situation of HRDs in Saudi Arabia, and in particular WHRDs, who are alone fighting a long-standing battle with no back-up or support. The lack of support for detained WHRDs in Saudi Arabia will not only affect the activists’ spaces but also all women’s spaces and their rights situation in general in the kingdom. Therefore, GCHR will continue to raise the situation of detained Saudi WHRDs as one of the main concerns and an epidemic plight in the region.


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