In its review of the human rights violations against women in the gulf area, the Deutsche Welle said in its annual report that since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the societal and economic overhaul dubbed Vision 2030 in April 2016, the situation for women has significantly changed for the worse.
The website said that while women’s activists like Loujain al-Hathloul were incarcerated for three years after campaigning for women to drive cars, the relevant legislation was changed in 2018 and — according to research firm Statista — within 1 1/2 years, more than 175,000 women had applied for their driving license in Riyadh.
Other laws have also been amended since 2018, meaning women are now allowed to apply for a passport without the consent of their male guardian and go to movie theaters with their friends.
“And yet, the system of repression is still in place,” Lina al-Hathloul, the sister of women’s activist Loujain al-Hathloul who works as head of communications and monitoring for the London-based human rights watchdog ALQST, told DW.
Due to the male guardianship system, girls and women still depend on the consent of their male guardian for most decisions.
In case of disobedience, these guardians, who can be fathers, husbands, brothers or sons, are entitled to send them off to so-called “care homes” — for good, al-Hathloul told DW.
Furthermore, this year, three judicial verdicts blatantly emphasized the Saudi discrepancy between men and women.
In January, the court in Medina convicted Yasser M. for the verbal sexual harassment of a woman. He was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined 5,000 riyals (€1265/$1330). Yasser M. was one of the first cases to be convicted following the tightening of Saudi anti-sexual harassment legislation in 2019.
In August, however, 34-year-old PhD student Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison, and a month later, Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years. Both were convicted for retweeting human rights calls.
“The consequence is fear — people don’t know any more what the red lines are,” al-Hathloul told DW.
For her, the liberation of women’s rights over the past four years doesn’t come anywhere close to what Saudi women really want.
“We want to live without fear and be able to demand our own rights,” she said.