The terms ‘campaign’ and ‘women’ are often heard together, since women represent a category that is often undermined or more exploited. Saudi Arabia is certainly one of those countries on the top of the list regarding complete gender inequality. Few days ago a new promising campaign called ‘No More Abuse’ was launched by non-profit King Khalid Foundation on violence against women in Saudi Arabia, thus supported by high figures in the government.
10 years ago a shocking case in Saudi Arabia emerged and for the first time the photo a brutally abused woman was shown in several newspapers. However, reactions also pointed out her life-style that was not considered ‘appropriate’ and some people thought she actually deserved it. This new viral ad campaign learnt in a way from past ‘mistakes’ and put as campaign-face a woman wearing a niqab with one black eye. As Muna AbuSulayman – Board Member of Muslim Women’s Fund – stated: “The ad took the focus out of gender, out of cultural issues and put the focus on the violence itself,” she then added: “This woman – in the ad – is observing all the cultural traditions, and look what’s happening to her”.
Although the campaign was initiated by the upper side of the society, indeed from King Khalid, the revolution should come from a lower level, from the real heart of the society that should overthrow the cultural and social believes towards women and women rights. Domestic violence against women is spread globally, in some countries more than others, but in Saudi Arabia the difference lays on the legal perspective. Domestic violence is not criminalized, women are bound by guardianship laws that prohibit them from leaving the house without the permission of their husband and many women are left stranded without any means of assistance. Sharia law is enacted severely in Saudi Arabia and women need permission for basic rights and needs, such as education, work and travel.
In January 2013 30 women joined the kingdom’s Shura Council, the consultative body of 150 persons, and they would hold then the 20 per cent of the seats. In 2009, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries for gender parity. However, this step was certainly symbolic and hopefully the opening for a new understanding of women - their decisions will not be binding though.
The international community on the other hand seems not to care excessively, or at all. Some European countries enacted laws anti-burqa and niqab for Muslim women – interfering with freedom of religion rights – but crying out women’s rights abuse as outrageous. The situation in Saudi Arabia for women is beyond the limit, but it is still such a powerful economic nation that nobody would start conflicts or debates about their national laws, especially when the matter regards ‘only’ an internal issue about Saudi women. Oil trade, money, power are hard to overcome, even when human rights are being overridden.
Until these inhumane treatments will be legal, there will be no room for women self-development in Saudi Arabia. Will this campaign really bring a change?
Have a look at ‘The Stream’ episode about the ‘No More Abuse’ campaign, which hosts Ebithal Mubarak, Journalist and blogger, Samar Fatany, Women’s rights activist, Muna AbuSulayman, Board member, Muslim Women’s Fund, and Muath Aldabbagh, activist.