Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a punishable criminal offense under Sharia with a wide range of penalties from flogging to execution. Generally the government enforced the law based on its interpretation of Sharia, and courts punished the victim for illegal “mixing of genders,” as well as the perpetrator. The government did not recognize spousal rape. Statistics on incidents of rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape was a serious problem. The government did not maintain public records on prosecutions, convictions, or punishments. Most rape cases were unreported because victims faced possible societal reprisal, diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery.
There were no laws criminalizing violence specifically against women, and the law does not distinguish domestic violence within the general legal prohibition against violence. Researchers stated that violence against women may be seriously underreported, making it difficult to gauge the magnitude of the problem. Officials stated that the government did not clearly define domestic violence and that procedures concerning cases, and accordingly enforcement, varied from one government body to another. NSHR’s 2010 annual report noted that it investigated 282 cases of domestic violence and violations of women’s rights, compared with 257 such cases in 2009. Violence included a broad spectrum of abuse. The government made efforts to combat domestic violence, and the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue held workshops and distributed educational materials on peaceful conflict resolution between spouses and in families.
The government supported family protection shelters. During the year the HRC fielded complaints of domestic abuse and referred these complaints to other government offices. The HRC’s women and children’s branches throughout the kingdom received 350 complaints from 71 women during the year; domestic violence and abuse accounted for most of the cases. The HRC advised complainants and offered legal assistance to some female litigants. The organization provided facilities for the children of women complainants and litigants and it distributed publications supporting women’s rights in education, health care, development, and the workplace.
Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure with little media reporting and no government data. The government’s interpretation of Sharia guides courts on cases of sexual harassment. Employers maintained separate male and female workspaces where feasible.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in couple’s right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. Statistics from the World Bank indicate that Saudi fertility rates steadily declined since 1980. Intrauterine devices were the most popular form of birth control in the country, and women, regardless of marital status, were legally able to obtain them. Birth control pills also were available to women in local pharmacies without prescriptions. Although no legal barriers prevented access to contraception, in practice many women were limited by constraints on mobility and economic resources. Information was not available regarding equal diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
Discrimination: Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their unequal rights. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have few political or social rights, and society treats them as unequal members. The law prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, but men may marry Christians and Jews. Women may not marry noncitizens without government permission; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry noncitizens from outside Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
The guardianship system requires that every woman have a close male relative as her “guardian” with the authority to approve her travel (see section 2.d.). A guardian also has authority to approve some types of business licenses and study at a university or college. Women can make their own determinations concerning hospital care. A husband who “verbally” (rather than via a court process) divorces his wife or refuses to sign final divorce papers continues to be her legal guardian.
Widespread societal exclusion restricted women from using many public facilities. When unrelated men are present, women must sit in separate, specially designated family sections. They are not allowed to consume food in restaurants that do not have such sections. Women risk arrest for riding in a vehicle driven by a male who is not an employee or a close male relative. Cultural norms enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length black cloak covering the entire body) in public and to conceal their hair. The religious police also generally expected Muslim women to cover their faces and non-Muslim women from other Asian and African countries to comply more fully with local customs of dress than non-Muslim Western women. In rural areas and smaller cities, women adhered to the traditional dress code of covering the entire body, hands, feet, hair, and face.
Women also faced discrimination in courts, where the testimony of one man equals that of two women. In divorce proceedings women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men can divorce without giving cause. In doing so men are required to pay immediately an amount of money agreed upon at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Women who demonstrate legal grounds for divorce also are entitled to alimony.
Women faced discrimination under family law. For example, a woman needs her guardian’s permission to marry. Courts awarded custody of children when they attained a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In numerous cases former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. Women are also discriminated against under inheritance laws, where daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.
Women constituted more than 58 percent of university students; education through university level was generally segregated. The only other exceptions to segregation in higher education were medical schools at the undergraduate level and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a graduate-level research university where women worked jointly with men, were not required to wear the veil, and drove cars on campus.
On July 11, the Ministry of Labor issued regulations requiring all women’s garment stores to be staffed solely by women. The regulations also created guidelines for women to telework but banned women from 20 professions, mostly in heavy industry. On March 26, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to open 1,000 legal, administrative, social, and religious positions within the judiciary to women throughout the country; however, women could not work as judges or prosecutors. A 2010 report by the central bank estimated that 36,000 female citizens worked in the public sector and 48,000 worked in the private sector.
The law requires a woman to obtain the permission of a male guardian to work if the type of business is not “deemed appropriate for a woman.” A woman cannot accept a job in a rural area unless she lodges with an adult male relative who agrees to act as her guardian. Widespread gender segregation directly led to discrimination in employment. Despite gender segregation the law grants women the right to obtain business licenses, and women frequently obtained licenses in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal frequently with government officials. In medical settings and in the energy industry, women and men worked together, and in some instances women supervised male employees. Women who work in establishments with 50 or more female employees have the right to maternity leave and child care.