RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has praised the exceptional role played by women during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a speech delivered at the end of the W20, the G20 women’s engagement group, on Wednesday, King Salman said: “I would like to express my gratitude to the Women 20 Engagement Group for their remarkable efforts and commitment to deliver their agenda during these unprecedented times caused by the COVID -19 pandemic.”
The Saudi king described women as the source of evolution for any society and said that without empowered women it is difficult to reform societies.
“Women are the main source of development for any society. Hence, without empowered women, it is almost impossible to implement any societal reforms given that women form half of the societies and they are the ones who raise up generations. Women has proven through history their remarkable role in leading change and in decision making.”
The king noted that Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 has dedicated special attention to discussing policies related to women across different ministerial and working group meetings.
The Middle East and North Africa region is often categorized as a place where women have few opportunities, but we are breaking those stereotypes, starting at home. Our region has made huge progress in driving the economic empowerment of women, many of whom are leaders in the private and government sectors, as well as in their entrepreneurial ventures. But, as with the rest of the world, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to reach true equality.
The World Bank’s report “Women, Business and the Law 2020” ranked Saudi Arabia as the world’s top reformer in advancing women’s economic participation for 2019. This is recognition of the legislative policies the country established to boost female participation in the workforce, which it aims to increase from an average of just under 20 percent to more than 40 percent as part of Vision 2030. This also includes support to female entrepreneurs as they realize the dream of being business owners. Further, we have 35,000 Saudi women currently studying in 60 foreign countries on government scholarships, fulfilling the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 targets based on the roles of women and youth.
There has been remarkable progress so far and I am confident that this is just the beginning of our journey. However, as we work toward our goals, we also need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.
The latest global research continues to paint an alarming picture of the gender gap in the workplace. A study commissioned by UN Women found that women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while the World Economic Forum found that only 55 percent of women (aged 15 to 64) are engaged in the labor market, as opposed to 78 percent of men. This picture only becomes more depressing when we look at the number of women in leadership or entrepreneurial roles. This year, there were only 37 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies list.
Making up 70 percent of front-line health care and service workers, women are currently demonstrating their critical role in addressing one of the largest crises in recent history. However, the coronavirus disease pandemic and subsequent recovery is expected to widen the gender pay gap even further.
But there is cause for optimism, as some countries, governments and businesses across the world are not only recognizing the need for equality, but are also seeing its very real and tangible rewards. New analysis by the Boston Consulting Group shows that, if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, the global gross domestic product could rise by between 3 and 6 percent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion. Given the economic crisis the entire world is currently facing, we cannot afford to ignore the benefits gender equality can offer.
As we work toward our goals, we need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.
During this year’s G20 Presidency of Saudi Arabia, the B20 established the inaugural Women in Business (WIB) Action Council and it has been my honor to serve as chair. This role has refueled my optimism, as leveling the playing field for women in the workforce has been central to all our work across the B20.
The B20’s role, as the business voice of the G20, is to identify the most pressing priorities impacting all business — large and small — in the developed and developing worlds. It is important to note that the WIB Action Council is the first initiative of its kind in the history of the G20 and B20. And we have broken records too, with women constituting 33 percent of the overall task force and action council membership, and 43 percent of the chairs.
Over the past year, the B20 has engaged with more than 650 business leaders across the G20 and beyond through its six task forces and WIB Action Council in an effort to ensure an inclusive and action-oriented process. Together, we have developed 25 recommendations to make to the G20 that we believe will help restore and reinvigorate the global economy. These recommendations have now been submitted and will be considered at the G20 summit next month.
The WIB Action Council recommendations call on the G20 to take the necessary action to unlock the advancement and full leadership potential of women by driving reforms, fostering an inclusive environment, ensuring fair and equal pay and encouraging new methods of flexible working.
We also recommended promoting female business ownership by creating an enabling environment for female-founded startups and eliminating barriers to expertise and finance. We also asked for a comprehensive “Women in STEM” road map to be implemented to increase the number of women in high-skilled jobs.
Finally, we are calling for a diverse cross-section of women to be included in all stages of policy design, with national policies on equality to be evaluated and amended to ensure they protect the rights and equal opportunities of women, and the implementation of policies for employers that set goals and transparent disclosure requirements to increase women in leadership positions.
As Saudi women, we have made history and will undoubtedly leave a legacy for future B20s. To advance, we must collectively encourage and support the G20 to make these recommendations a reality and ensure we leave a lasting legacy for future generations of women, and men, across the world.
• Rania Nashar is Chair of the Women in Business Action Council at B20 Saudi Arabia, the voice of the private sector to the G20
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view
Protection offered by Saudi Arabia’s 2018 anti-harassment law enabled women to gain new freedoms without hindrance. (AFP/File Photo)
The criminalization of sexual harassment in May 2018 was a watershed moment for Saudi women, leading to unprecedented reform
Some 5.5 million women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from sweeping reforms guarding their rights and safety at work
DUBAI: In the space of just a few years, the legal rights of Saudi women have fundamentally changed, opening up new freedoms of movement, the ability to choose where they want to live, and the right to pursue their own career aspirations for the first time.
Bold reforms implemented under the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 development plan have already led to significant growth in the number of women joining the labor force, from 18 percent in 2017 to 23 percent in 2018, according to World Bank figures.
Although this figure is still far lower than the average of 59 percent among member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it marks a significant turning point for a largely conservative society.
For this revolution to occur, vital legislation first had to be drafted to guarantee the rights and safety of women in the workplace. Key to this was the criminalization of sexual harassment.
The anti-harassment law of May 2018 defines sexual harassment as “all conduct of a sexual nature from one person to the other, including touching of the body, honor or modesty in any way, shape or form.” The definition also applies to electronic communications such as social media.
According to the Shoura Council, Saudi Arabia’s formal consultative body that drafted the law, the aim is “to combat the crime of harassment, preventing it from occurring, applying punishment to the perpetrators, and protecting the victim in order to safeguard the individual’s privacy, dignity and personal freedom guaranteed by Islamic law and regulations.”
The statute on sexual harassment grants victims the right to anonymity, and allows courts to hand down punishments of up to two years in jail and maximum fines of SR100,000 ($26,500).
In the most severe cases, involving children or disabled victims, the law allows penalties of up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of SR300,000 ($80,000). The law also criminalizes inciting or assisting harassment and falsely reporting offenses.
This was a watershed moment for Saudi Arabia. With this strict legal deterrent in place, an avalanche of reforms could follow, empowering women to enter civic life, beginning in June 2018 with the lifting of the ban on them driving.
Other decrees soon followed, including amendments to the male guardianship system so that women over the age of 21 were free to leave the house unaccompanied, and the equalizing of women’s right to choose a place of residency.
Discrimination based on gender in employment was also prohibited, as were the dismissal of pregnant women and discrimination based on gender in accessing credit.
New childcare centers were established and subsidies made available to help more women leave the home.
Pension equality was also introduced by equalizing the retirement age for men and women, and mandating pension care credits for maternity leave.
An estimated 5.5 million Saudi women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from these reforms, and long-entrenched social norms are gradually coming undone.
Due to these rapid developments, the World Bank’s “Women, Business, and the Law 2020” report, published in April, recognized Saudi Arabia as the world’s top reformer in the last year.
“Saudi Arabia basically has become one of the leaders in the Arab world in terms of women empowerment,” Issam Abu Sulaiman, the World Bank’s regional director for the Gulf Cooperation Council, said at the time, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The groundwork for this rapid social change was laid by the anti-harassment law, which has given women the confidence and legal protection they need to freely participate and contribute to society.
Now an amendment is being drafted to further strengthen the penalty for sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia to include the naming and shaming of offenders.
Shoura Council members believe that the threat of defamation will act as an even greater deterrent to misconduct than fines and imprisonment alone.
“Defamation is for the larger good of society,” Lina Almaeena, a member of the Shoura Council and co-founder of the Jeddah United Sports Co., told Arab News.
“It’s a deterrent that many countries have applied and that has proved effective in reducing harassment cases. The anti-sexual harassment law has proved effective in preventing misconduct.”
By making the issue a matter of honor, it is felt that households will take greater care when educating their children about social conduct. “There’s going to be more awareness, and families will play a bigger role,” Almaeena said.
Before it can come into force, the draft amendment must first go before the Council of Ministers for endorsement and then be issued as a royal decree by King Salman.
“We are talking now about making a new amendment by adding a new article to the existing law. We are not talking about a new law,” Faisal Fadhil, a UK-educated legal expert and Shoura Council member, told Arab News.
Some observers believe strengthening the existing law will allow even more women to join the labor force without fear of harassment in the workplace.
“It would encourage more young girls and women to join the workforce with confidence, feeling protected, and feeling they’ll be supported if they’re faced with any harassment,” Maha Akeel, director of social and family affairs at the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told Arab News.
No statistics are readily available on the incidence of sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia, largely due to past reluctance to report violations.
There is therefore limited data to demonstrate its prevalence or show the impact of legislation.
“Maybe we’ll see more reporting. Maybe we’ll see fewer public displays of harassment. It’s difficult to measure the impact, lacking factual studies and statistics,” said Akeel.
She nevertheless sees the threat of defamation as a potent weapon against harassment, which could prove especially effective in Saudi culture.
“Sometimes people fear the public naming and shaming more than financial penalties or even imprisonment … because it will harm their reputation,” Akeel said.
“We’re a conservative society, so it might be more of a deterrent than the punishments tried earlier.”
Saudi Shoura Council Speaker Dr. Abdullah Al-Asheikh chairs a remote session of the council as a health precaution in Riyadh. (SPA/File)
It will help eliminate harassment in workplaces and public places as well as in schools
JEDDAH: Violations of Saudi Arabia’s anti-sexual harassment laws could be punished by “naming and shaming” following a decision by the Kingdom’s Shoura Council to approve a defamation penalty.
The council voted in favor of the penalty during its session on Wednesday after previously rejecting the move in March this year.
Council member Latifah Al-Shaalan said the proposal to include the penalty was sent by the Saudi Cabinet.
Saudi lawyer Njood Al-Qassim said she agrees with the move, adding that it will help eliminate harassment in workplaces and public places as well as in schools.
“The penalty will be imposed according to a court ruling under the supervision of judges, and according to the gravity of the crime and its impact on society,” Al-Qassim told Arab News.
“This will be a deterrent against every harasser and molester,” she said.
Al-Qassim said that legal experts are required to explain the system and its penalties to the public.
“The Public Prosecution has clarified those that may be subject to punishment for harassment crimes, including the perpetrator, instigator and accessory to the crime, the one who agreed with the harasser, malicious report provider, and the person who filed a malicious prosecution lawsuit,” she added.
“The Public Prosecution also confirmed that attempted harassment requires half the penalty prescribed for the crime,” said Al-Qassim.
In May 2018, the Shoura Council and Cabinet approved a measure criminalizing sexual harassment under which offenders will be fined up to SR100,000 ($26,660) and jailed for a maximum of two years, depending on the severity of the crime.
In the most severe cases, where the victims are children or disabled, for example, violators will face prison terms of up to five years and/or a maximum penalty of SR300,000.
Incidents that have been reported more than once will be subject to the maximum punishment.
The law seeks to combat harassment crimes, particularly those targeting children under 18 and people with special needs.
Witnesses are also encouraged to report violations and their identities will remain confidential.
The law defines sexual harassment as words or actions that hint at sexuality toward one person from another, or that harms the body, honor or modesty of a person in any way. It takes into account harassment in public areas, workplaces, schools, care centers, orphanages, homes and on social media.
“The legislation aims at combating the crime of harassment, preventing it, applying punishment against perpetrators and protecting the victims in order to safeguard the individual’s privacy, dignity and personal freedom which are guaranteed by Islamic law and regulations,” a statement from the Shoura Council said.
Council member Eqbal Darandari, who supports the law, said on Twitter that the defamation penalty has proven its effectiveness in crimes in which a criminal exploits a person’s trust.
“The defamation of one person is a sufficient deterrent to the rest,” she said.
Social media activist Hanan Abdullah told Arab News the decision “is a great deterrent for every harasser since some fear for their personal and family’s reputation, and won’t be deterred except through fear of defamation.”
The move will protect women from “uneducated people who believe that whoever leaves her house deserves to be attacked and harassed,” she said.
“Anyone who is unhappy with this decision should look at their behavior.”
Islam has provided the first constitution that enhances the idea of common citizenship and freedom of religions
RIYADH: The King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) and the Interreligious Platform for Dialogue and Cooperation (IPDC) on Wednesday launched the Dialogue Program 2020 among religious leaders and organizations in the Arab world.
KAICIID secretary-general, Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muaammar, said the center aims to enhance the culture of dialogue and coexistence, and highlight the value of human diversity.
He said the center also lays the foundations of understanding and collaboration among all religions and cultures, and highlights the importance of building a diverse culture.
The center provides sustainable solutions for today’s challenges, he added.
“Serious dialogue can enhance the role of interreligious institutions, helping to promote a culture of dialogue, coexistence and tolerance in society,” he said. “The message of the center addresses all humankind and not a specific society.”
The terrorist events that ripped through the region were the result of fanaticism and hatred, he said, noting that people of all diverse and multiple backgrounds can coexist peacefully in society.
“Islam has provided the first constitution that enhances the idea of common citizenship and freedom of religions. The Document of Madinah included a comprehensive constitution that guides people of different religious backgrounds on how to live together peacefully and practice their religion freely, and, most importantly, enhance the values of coexistence, justice, security and peace among one another,” he added.
Bin Muaammar called on those who have the capability to fight the discourse of extremism, saying that dialogue can enhance “human principles and values such as mercy, respect, tolerance, peace and social solidarity.”
He also urged religious leaders and institutions, as well as policymakers, to promote such values and strengthen comprehensive citizenship.
“Those leaders and institutions can fight and confront the threats facing peaceful coexistence and tolerance, threats that are posed by extreme groups,” he said. “Religious institutions should enhance the culture of common citizenship, each in their society.”
KAICIID contributes to such efforts through its experience and collaboration with relevant institutions around the world.
The Dialogue Program 2020 promotes dialogue, common citizenship and coexistence in the Arab world through cooperation in a range of projects. It also challenges messages of hate locally, nationally and regionally.
The United Arab Emirates is not only a pioneer in the cultural renaissance with the facilities it has established and initiatives it has launched, but has also managed to achieve a true diplomatic renaissance with the peace treaty it signed with Israel recently — an agreement that protects its borders and stability, but also exceeds the geographical frontiers of the nation to reach the whole Arab region.
The initiative has reflected on the geopolitical relationships in the Arab region and its relations with the Western countries, especially the US, Russia and China, placing Arabs in the heart of international events and achieving development in the Arab region.
However, the “normalization” agreement with Israel divided opinion in the Arab world between supporters, opponents and skeptics about the normalization possibility with a Hebrew state. Whether it is betraying the Palestinian cause or defending it, what might seem like a harsh treatment in reality is the only way to bring recovery, health and security.
Wise people see that normalization with Israel is the best gift to Palestinians, as it reflects positively on the security, social and economic aspects.
The tolerance that the UAE has promoted though this agreement is not just a theory but a true effort to embody it on the practical and diplomatic levels, preceded by efforts to spread awareness about just issues, equality, co-living and accepting differences, thus contributing toward building the new awareness of Arab people, who believe in freedom, dignity and humanitarian values.
Throughout the decades, all the diplomatic efforts and numerous foreign ministerial meetings — even those held with presidents and kings of Arab nation — have not succeeded in achieving peace or stability in the Arab region, leaving border conflicts ongoing, and creating security, social and economic conflicts, especially in the past few years.
These crises have recently become a threat to neighborly relations with Arab countries that share the same religion, language and history, as well as the relations with the Western countries. Therefore, the success of the UAE in signing a permanent peace treaty with Israel represents an important event on the Arab level, to reflect positively on the whole region and pave the way for a new era.
Believing in a common destiny and the right to live and exist is a prologue to modifying many convictions, especially those stemming from the remnants of extremist and racist parties, which consider themselves sole possessors of the truth.
Now is the time to amend misconceptions and purify the Arab mind from the remnants of corruption and backwardness, by declaring tolerance and reconciliation with all entities, which is consistent with the principles of our religion, as Islam was purely founded on peace, yielding to the truth and defending peace.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, is one of the most prominent planners of the peace treaty with Israel. Many political figures in Arab and Islamic countries followed in his footsteps, in favor of what is right and believing in the unity of a common destiny. There will be no injustice, aggression, or violation of the rights of any party, as long as everyone resides on one land. There is either a necessity for coexistence or common mortality, there is no in-between. He who has the slightest bit of sound thinking can sense a rational decision for a healthy life free from any threat. So, can a person be innovative in an environment marked by fear and oppression?
Security and stability represent the basis of a decent life, but an authoritarian or transcendent policy — if not to say extremism — spoils a lot of friendliness. Instead of creating opportunities for survival, we see them stifling life’s chances. This is exactly how we describe the confusion that stemmed from the ideas and positions of some extremist parties, when the UAE announced the decision to normalize with Israel.
These parties hide behind TV channels, websites and all kinds of media platforms to sow disparity and conflict among the children of a single people, instead of standing together against others. But despite all attempts to downplay this decision and call it treason, they do not have the power to change reality and are unable to suggest a real alternative that ends the Arab-Israeli conflict and brings stability to the region.
People do not aspire for more than a decent life. However, some arrogant regimes want to fish in troubled waters and do not wish to see stability, unity and cooperation among Arabs. Perhaps many signs of hope are looming on the horizon with the increasing number of diplomatic voices who are supporting the UAE’s decision to normalize relations and revive the bonds of exchange and cooperation.
This will undoubtedly be a new revolution that will fix what the blind revolutions — or what is known as the Arab Spring — have ruined. The blind revolutions were incapable of achieving stability, but rather have unlawfully and without any shame destroyed and demolished homes above their innocent inhabitants’ heads. And at the end of the day, they say: “Normalizing with Israel is a betrayal and a setback.” They have forgotten that the greatest betrayal lies in the failure to keep up with civilization.
Fares Al-Ghanami is a Saudi writer and intellectual interested in political affairs. Twitter: @farescom200
We celebrate the 90th anniversary of Saudi National Day, in which we remember the epic story of the unification of this dear country under the banner of the founder, His Majesty King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud.
On this occasion, we draw inspiration from the role played by Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman, one of the influential female figures in the establishment of this country. She contributed to shaping the public scene in the early years of the establishment of the third Saudi state. This is a clear indication of the presence of Saudi women and the effectiveness of their role in political, historical and social developments at the state level.
Since its unification, women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have enjoyed the attention and support of the leaders of this country to contribute to its growth and advancement in various fields, right up to the era of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.
Under his reign, women have witnessed an exceptional era of support and care, enabling them to gain professional and scientific achievements, and to succeed in translating this confidence into achievements gained nationally, regionally and globally.
At the national level, Saudi women today play a pivotal role based on the principle of full participation in the system of building and development under Vision 2030. They are an important part of society, given their capabilities and energy that can be harnessed to build their future and that of their homeland, where women have successfully occupied various professional and developmental positions.
As for the regional level, Saudi women quickly grabbed the spotlight due to their high competence and qualifications that have contributed to enhancing their role in international societies. This is what the Arab Women’s Committee has adopted by declaring Riyadh the capital of Arab women for the year 2020.
Globally, Saudi women occupy a prominent position today, having gained confidence in performing national missions and contributing on a larger and greater scale in the international arena, representing the Kingdom through external governmental institutions and international organizations.
On this national anniversary, we must all look to the future. Our wise leadership has created all the conditions and opportunities in favor of women. We must ask: Where do Saudi women stand today among the women of the world? There is no doubt that Saudi women are living today one of their most brilliant historical stages, and in an exceptional state that enables them to truly participate. They must invest this golden age in creating the future and the space of empowerment granted to them in the service of their homeland.
Women must realize their identity and what they want to be in the future, especially after the adoption of laws and the approval of reforms to prove that they are up to the responsibility and confidence that the leadership and society have given them.
We are entitled to be proud of the changes that women have witnessed, and the changes that have been achieved at the cultural and social levels. Therefore, I believe that Saudi National Day is not just a national occasion, but an opportunity to examine the developments that Saudi women have contributed to in their country, and to draw the features of the future, on whose doorstep they stand today.
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