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Key Measures to End Gender-Based Discrimination and Violence Against Women in Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Convention) in 2000, yet maintained certain reservations, especially in regards to Article 2, stating that “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.”
Article 2 is central to the objectives and purpose of the Convention; it calls upon states to ensure that their constitutions and national legislatures embody, enable and guarantee the equal rights of women and men as citizens. We maintain that reservations under this Article are not permissible, as they act as obstacles to the full development of gender equality and women’s civil, political, economic, and human rights. According to the CEDAW Committee itself, neither traditional, religious or cultural practice, nor incompatible domestic laws and policies, can be used to justify violations of the Convention. In the same way, any reservations to Article 16, which calls on states to promote marriage as a just and equal partnership, are also incompatible with the Convention and therefore impermissible.
The UN CEDAW Committee, in its 2008 review of the Saudi Arabia’s country report on its implementation of the CEDAW Convention, urged the State party to consider the withdrawal of its reservations to the Convention. This came after assurances from the State representatives themselves that there is no contradiction in substance between the Convention and Islamic Shari’a. Given the Kingdom’s commitment to the Convention, the Committee also urged the Saudi government to implement a number of key measures to enhance the status of women and adherence to the CEDAW Convention. We highlight here the recommendations and measures that have a direct bearing on VNC’s concerns on ending gender-based discrimination and violence ‘justified’ in the name of ‘culture’ or religion.