Latifa Al-Zahrani

Latifa Al-Zahrani

Journalist

KSA to approve anti-harassment law for future female drivers

The Saudi Shura Council, the consultative assembly of Saudi Arabia, has just approved an anti-harassment draft law. The latter, drafted by the Saudi Ministry of Interior, is a step ahead of the Kingdom’s decree allowing women to obtain driver’s licenses before it takes full effect in June. The law stipulates provisions to guarantee both the protection and safety of Saudi’s future women drivers against potential harassment and harassers.

In a session held on May 28, the Shura Council discussed a slew of internal affairs and recommendations, and chiefly, the anti-harassment draft law. The law currently comprises eight articles, covering punitive, preventive and protective anti-harassment stipulations. The timing of the law’s approval is not without reason, as Saudi Arabia’s decree allowing women to obtain driver’s licenses will takes effect in June.

Objections and accusations

Calls to lay down the law on incriminating harassment had been echoed several times in the Kingdom, but often, met with a great deal of opposition and controversy. Critics believed that harassment was, chiefly, incited by women themselves, and by the way they dressed and carried themselves in public. As such, they equally called for enforcing the law on women’s mobility and public image, rather than on the harassers themselves – which they perceived to be victims of temptation, rather than perpetrators.

In previous times, supporters of this school of thought believed that an anti-harassment law and framework in Saudi Arabia would stretch women’s freedom too far and wide, away from conservative norms and dress codes, and against societal mores and norms. To that same end, they called for capping women’s workforce participation in both public and private sectors in efforts to reduce workplace harassment incidence.

A top-down call

The need for an anti-harassment law had been discussed within the Saudi Shura Council several times. But the Saudi parliament could take little action before a royal decree came to a definitive decision on the law. Eventually, these efforts led to the official drafting and approval of an anti-harassment framework in the Kingdom.

In end of September 2017, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal decree to draft an anti-harassment law. More firmly, he gave the Saudi minister of interior 60 days to draft and submit the law to Saudi leadership.

Harassment poses great danger on individuals, families and society, the royal decree stated, adding that harassment acts go against the very beliefs of Islam, and of the traditions and norms of Saudi society. As such, the law’s central purpose is to criminalize what is a heinous act, and enforce strict punitive and preventive action on those who commit it.

Tough punishment

Upon the release of the royal decree, the Ministry of Interior immediately took action to draft the law articles, and to explore possible and suitable punitive action for harassment crimes. It did so well within the timeline set by the decree.

The draft law, comprising eight articles, stipulates a prison sentence of up to 15 years for harassers, and/or a fine of up to three million Saudi Riyals.

The law also tasks the Saudi General Prosecution with investigating and prosecuting harassment crimes before concerned judicial authorities, while the police will be carrying out criminal investigations in such cases.
Moreover, the draft law also assigns the Ministry of Interior with putting in place long-term and sustainable awareness programs for concerned parties, particularly around the legislative anti-harassment framework, and around the perils of harassment on individuals and society.

Fine tuning

A number of local newspapers reported earlier that the law would be passed in a number of days, after it undergoes final touches by the committee that has been assigned to revise and finalize it. Then followed the announcement that the draft law will be discussed by the Saudi Shura Council, further implying the possibility of it being approved in the short term.

It has been speculated that the law will be approved and will take effect before Saudi Arabia lifts the driving ban on women this coming June, in protective measures for the country’s future female drivers – particularly during what will be, inevitably, a sensitive first few months. The urgency to approve it is a reflection of Saudi leadership’s commitment to take all necessary measures in ensuring a safe and obstacle-free environment for women to practice their right to drive.

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