Women’s Rights & Divorce
Saudi Arabia is famous mainly because it controls over 20 % of the world’s extractable oil. The country has a population of around 27.1 million including nearly eight million foreigners. However, Saudi Arabia also has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, with 18,765 recorded divorce cases just last year. That figure translates to an average of one divorce every 30 minutes in the world’s dominant oil power nation. The head of the social rehabilitation and awareness association in the eastern region of the country, Awad Al Harbi, said that “One divorce case every half an hour and the more than 1,000 family violence cases in the country illustrate the need for more efforts to educate Saudis on family stability and marriage life.”
Now, as revolution is in the air in much of the Arab world, a national women’s movement called the Saudi Women Revolution has emerged with new demands to participate in the political process, including voting and running for election. The demand comes just prior to the kingdom’s upcoming nationwide elections in September 2011. Women will not be allowed to participate in the elections and they were not allowed to participate in the elections held in 2005. The Saudi government claims too few women have proper identity cards and it is too difficult to count and regulate women’s votes.
Saudi women definitely do not have rights as full citizens under the law and now that a new UN agency devoted to global women’s rights has emerged, they may have new hope. The UN Women group wants to be a driver for gender equality and women’s empowerment that will also provide funding and support to governments and national advocates in their efforts to improve women’s rights. The group aims to operate along global norms of gender equity while navigating sensitive cultural and religious boundaries at the same time.
Women in Saudi Arabia continue to deal strict guardianship laws that require male companionship or permission in marriage, travel, driving, and the pursuit of education and employment. Saudi women lack the right to vote or run for political office, and the country’s family laws weight divorce and custody rulings heavily toward men. Saudi King Abdullah has allowed some small advances in women’s rights, including more freedom in public, establishment of the first co-ed university, and the appointment of the first female cabinet member, however, a 2010 Human Rights Watch report called the efforts largely symbolic and not much has really changed despite numerous recommendations from global governing bodies and human rights groups.
Women in Saudi Arabia continue to face systematic discrimination, much of which hinges on strict guardianship laws that require male companionship or permission in marriage, travel, driving, and the pursuit of education and employment. Women lack the right to vote or run for political office, and are disadvantaged by the country’s family law, which weights divorce and custody heavily toward the man. Working with government members and women’s advocates, Saudi women are now positioned to make new progress to set their country on a better path.