Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) on September 7, 2000.


Upon ratification, Saudia Arabia made reservations as described in detail below:

  • In case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention.
  • The Kingdom does not consider itself bound by paragraph 2 of article 9 of the Convention and paragraph 1 of article 29 of the Convention.

Summary of Official CEDAW Reports:

To date, Saudi Arabia has submitted a combined initial and second periodic report to the CEDAW Committee (“Committee”). This official report was submitted in March 2007.

In response to the most recent report, the Committee released comments in April 2008 regarding Saudi Arabia’s progress in implementing CEDAW as well as the areas of concerns. The Committee expressed appreciation to Saudi Arabia for having ratified CEDAW and for sending a large and important delegation. Nevertheless, the Committee noted that Saudi Arabia’s report lacked references to the Committee’s general recommendations.

A detailed account of progress expressed by the Committee following Saudi Arabia’s report in 2007 as follows:

  • Its modern infrastructure and its high standard of basic social services, especially the provision of Government-funded health care and education services to many sectors of society.
  • Establishment of institutional mechanisms for the advancement and the protection of women from violence, in particular the higher national committee specialized in women’s affairs and the 13 social protection committees established in 2004. The Committee also notes with satisfaction that Saudi Arabia is currently in the process of drafting new legislation on the implementation of women’s rights and that the State party plans to compile, in writing, the provisions of Sharia on personal status.
  • Establishment by royal decree in 2004 of a human rights commission, which is tasked with the implementation of the human rights commitments of the State party, and a national society for human rights.

A detailed account of recommendations made by the Committee following Saudi Arabia’s report in 2007 as follows:

  • Submit the present concluding observations to all relevant ministries, to the Consultative Council (Shura), and to the Judiciary so as to ensure their full implementation.
  • Consider the withdrawal of its general reservation to the Convention, particularly in light of the fact that the delegation assured that there is no contradiction in substance between the Convention and Islamic Sharia.
  • Amend its legislation to confirm that international treaties have precedence over domestic laws and enact a comprehensive gender equality law and intensify its efforts to raise awareness about the Convention among the general public.
  • Ensure that the Convention becomes an integral part of the legal education and training of judicial officers, including judges and magistrates, lawyers and prosecutors, particularly those working in the family courts, so that a legal culture supportive of women’s equality with men and non-discrimination on the basis of sex is firmly established in the country. It also invites the State party to enhance women’s awareness of their rights through, for example, legal literacy programs and legal assistance.
  • Incorporate fully into the legislation the principle of equality between women and men, as well as a definition of discrimination on the basis of sex in line with article 1 of the Convention, and extending State responsibility to acts of discrimination by public and private actors, in accordance with article 2 of the Convention, and to take the appropriate steps in order to implement the principle of formal and substantive equality.
  • Take immediate steps to end the practice of male guardianship over women, including by awareness-raising campaigns, and be proactive and to put into place without delay a comprehensive strategy, including clear goals and timetables, to modify or eliminate negative cultural practices and stereotypes that are harmful to and discriminate against women and to promote women’s full enjoyment of their human rights, in conformity with articles 2 (f) and 5 (a) of the Convention.
  • Finalize its review of the ban of women from driving, and include in its next periodic report information on the concept of male guardianship and how it affects the application of the Convention in Saudi Arabia.
  • Develop a national action plan with an effective strategy on gender equality, based on the Convention, the Committee’s general recommendations, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and Beijing+5, with the involvement of all sectors of Government and in consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations, and provide information in its next report on the impact of, and results achieved in, its implementation of such a plan. Seek the technical support of United Nations entities in developing such a plan and also in the collection and analysis of data and training of the national team responsible for its elaboration and implementation.
  • Ensure that the national machinery for the advancement of women has the necessary visibility and decision-making, as well as coordination, powers to enable it effectively to fulfill its mandate in promoting gender equality, and provide in its next report a clearer and more detailed picture of the national machinery, both the central coordinating body and the sectorial units to be created, including its authority, functions, powers and resources. Taking into account that the Human Rights Commission has been tasked with the implementation of the Convention and other human rights treaties, it also recommends that the Commission be comprised of an equal number of female and male staff and board members as well as providing full and easy access to women to claim their rights.
  • Give high priority to comprehensive measures to address all forms of violence against women and girls, recognizing that violence is a form of discrimination against women and constitutes a violation of their human rights under the Convention.
  • Enact, as soon as possible, legislation on violence against women, including a comprehensive law on domestic violence, to ensure that violence against women is a criminal offense, that women and girls who are victims of violence have access to immediate means of redress and that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished.
  • Implement educational and awareness-raising measures aimed at law enforcement officials, the judiciary, health-care providers, social workers, community leaders and the general public, to ensure that they understand that all forms of violence against women, including violence in the home, are unacceptable, and make full use of the Committee’s general recommendation 19 in such efforts and of the in-depth study of the Secretary-General on all forms of violence against women (A/61/122 and Add.1 and Add.1/Corr.1) and his recently launched worldwide multi-year campaign to eliminate it.
  • Provide information in its next report on the laws, policies and programs in place to deal with all forms of violence against women, in particular the approach of the 13 social protection committees, and on the impact of such measures, as well as statistical data and trends concerning the prevalence of various forms of violence.
  • Provide full details on the situation of non-Saudi women, in particular domestic workers, in its next report and on their enjoyment of the rights established by the Convention, and grant in law and practice female domestic migrant workers, including their children, the rights provided for in the Convention and to implement measures aimed at informing them about these rights. Adopt a labor law concerning domestic workers as a priority.
  • Implement fully article 6 of the Convention, including by speedily enacting specific and comprehensive national legislation on the phenomenon of trafficking that ensures that victims are adequately protected and assisted, and increase prevention efforts, by addressing the root causes of trafficking through bilateral and/or multilateral cooperation with the countries of origin so as to eliminate the vulnerability of women and girls to being trafficked into Saudi Arabia, as well as the provision of assistance and support to these trafficking victims, using the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking (E/2002/68/Add.1).
  • Take sustained measures, including temporary special measures in accordance with article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention and the Committee’s general recommendations 23 and 25, and to establish concrete goals and time frames to accelerate the increase in the participation and representation of women in the Shura and other elected and appointed bodies in all areas and at all levels of public and political life. Conduct training programs on leadership and negotiation skills for current and future women leaders, and undertake awareness-raising about the importance of women’s participation in decision-making for society as a whole.
  • Amend the Nationality Code so as to bring it in conformity with article 9 of the Convention and to withdraw its reservation concerning article 9, paragraph 2.
  • Raise awareness of the importance of education as a human right and as the basis for the empowerment of women, and implement measures to ensure equal access for girls and women to all levels and fields of education and ensure the retention of girls in school.
  • Make every effort to improve the literacy level of girls and women through the adoption of comprehensive programs of formal and non-formal education, and through adult education and training, and provide detailed information and statistics in its next report on the education of women and girls, including those from rural areas, and non-Saudi nationals.
  • Take immediate and more targeted steps to increase women’s participation in the workforce, in particular by ensuring the implementation of the laws enacted for the advancement of women.
  • Prioritize the adoption of a law regarding maternity leave in the private sector and calls upon the State party to remove impediments to women’s employment, including by abolishing de facto workplace segregation of women and men and by ensuring that there are adequate childcare facilities in all areas, and provide in its next report more information and more detailed data on women in employment, including incidents of sexual harassment and the positions held by women in the private and public sector.
  • Take all necessary measures to improve women’s access to health care and health-related services and information, within the framework of the Committee’s general recommendation 24, and make sure that special attention is paid to the health needs of women from rural areas and non-Saudi nationalities. The Committee also recommends training for hospital staff on the rights of women regarding health care and the implementation of a system of supervision to ensure that staff respects these rights.
  • Prescribe and enforce a minimum age of marriage of 18 years for both women and men, in accordance with article 16, paragraph 2, of the Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to introduce legislative reforms to provide women with equal rights in marriage, divorce, the custody of children and inheritance, and end the practice of polygamy, in accordance with the Committee’s general recommendation 21, on equality in marriage and family relations.
  • Include in its next report more detailed statistical data and analysis on the situation of women, disaggregated by sex, age and rural and urban areas, and include information on the impact of measures taken to implement the Convention and the results achieved in the practical realization of women’s substantive equality.
  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention and to accept, as soon as possible, the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention, concerning the meeting time of the Committee.
  • Enhance collaboration and coordination with civil society organizations, in particular women’s associations, to strengthen implementation of the provisions of the Convention, and to engage in consultations with such organizations when preparing its next report.
  • Utilize fully in its implementation of its obligations under the Convention, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which reinforce the provisions of the Convention, and requests the State party to include information thereon in its next periodic report.
  • Recognize that the full and effective implementation of the Convention is indispensable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It calls for the integration of a gender perspective and explicit reflection of the provisions of the Convention in all efforts aimed at the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and requests the State party to include information thereon in its next periodic report.
  • Consider ratifying the treaties to which it is not yet a party, namely, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Disseminate widely in Saudi Arabia the present concluding observations in order to make the people, including government officials, politicians, parliamentarians and women’s and human rights organizations, aware of the steps that have been taken to ensure de jure and de facto equality of women, and the further steps that are required in that regard.
  • Continue to disseminate widely, in appropriate and suitable forms, in particular to women’s and human rights organizations, the Convention, its Optional Protocol, the Committee’s general recommendations, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”.
  • Respond to the concerns expressed in the present concluding observations in its next periodic report under article 18 of the Convention. The Committee invites the State party to submit its third periodic report, which is due in October 2009, and its fourth periodic report, which is due October 2013, in a combined report in 2013.

Summary of Shadow Reports:

To date, one shadow report has been submitted by Human Rights Watch regarding the application of CEDAW in Saudi Arabia. This report was considered in February 2008 by the Committee and was entitled Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia. This report was Human Rights Watch’s first fact-finding mission to Saudi Arabia, during which they conducted 109 interviews in four major cities. The report focused mainly on the fact that the imposition of male guardianship denies Saudi women their right to a legal capacity identical to that of a man, which violates various articles covered by CEDAW.

The report made the following recommendations to the government of Saudi Arabia:

  • Promulgate by royal decree the dismantling of the legal guardianship system for adult women, guaranteeing that women are considered to have reached full legal capacity at 18 years of age. In the interim, ensure that all government agencies no longer request permission from a guardian to allow adult women to work, travel, study, marry, receive health care, or access any public service.
  • Appoint a committee tasked with examining the ways in which strict sex segregation prevents Saudi women from fully participating in public life.
  • Establish an independent body tasked with monitoring the implementation of laws, royal decrees, and ministerial decisions that advance women’s rights, including decisions that limit a guardian’s authority, and create female sections in all government offices.
  • Appoint women as full members to the consultative council to ensure that women in the kingdom have a voice in decision making.
  • Sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
  • Lift reservations made upon acceding to CEDAW, which violate the object and purpose of the treaty.
  • Implement the recommendation made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child to seek technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization to support efforts to address violence against women and children.
  • Establish an independent mechanism with a mandate to regularly monitor and evaluate progress in the implementation of CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the national and local levels.

Recent Updates:

Despite Saudi Arabia’s ratification of CEDAW, Saudi women still face discrimination in a number of areas. Women’s participation in the public sphere is sharply limited by the government’s interpretation of Islam as well as the opinion of the Council of Senior Ulama. Saudi women do not have rights equal to that of their male counterparts, specifically with regards to citizenship, testimony, divorce, consent and freedom of movement. In addition, women are required by law to remain segregated from any male who is not a member of the family or household.

Women have made advances in education and employment, though their progress remains limited due to strict laws. Primary school enrollment rates for girls hovers around 65% and approximately 58% of university students are women. Nevertheless, women are barred from studying certain subjects, such as architecture, engineering and journalism. Approximately 33% of women are illiterate. Women comprise approximately 16% of the work force, and are most prevalent in the fields of education, healthcare and civil service. The work place remains segregated by sex, and most often male relatives control a woman’s income.

Women do not have a large role in the public sphere, given that all public meeting must be segregated by sex and women are legally banned from conducting public meetings on their own. Nevertheless, two women are members of the Majlis al-Shura, the 120 member national council appointed by royal decree. On April 27, 2007, the King appointed the first Saudi woman as president of the Riyadh University for Women.

On January 4, 2006, Arab News reported that Saudi women now have the right to apply for their own personal identification cards without the consent of a male guardian. This identification card affords a variety of new opportunities, including the right to open an independent bank account, apply for a passport and request bank loans.

On February 2, 2008, Al-Sharq reported that the Saudi lawyers and Islamic law staff rejected the portrait of Saudi women as portrayed by the CEDAW Committee published earlier in 2008. While the Committee commented that “Saudi women suffer as a result of male domination and discriminatory cultural traditions”, the deputy chairman of the Saudi National Society for Human Rights countered the claim, stating the Saudi women have the same rights as men in terms of trade, property, education, and participation in civil society. The chairman also noted that women in Saudi Arabia have the right to vote and enjoy equal rights in civil service jobs.

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