Invisible Chains: Legal and Structural Challenges Facing Women’s Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia

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Yesterday, on International Women’s Day 2021, ECDHR together with ALQST hosted a panel event on the struggles that Saudi Women’s Rights Defenders currently face. Co-hosted with MEPs Helmut Scholz, of the Left group and Alessandra Moretti, of S&D, the panel consisted of Women’s rights activist and scholar Hala Al-Dosari and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor.

The interactive panel event touched upon the dangerous trends on the prosecution and treatment of Saudi women’s rights defenders receive, as seen by both official mandates and activists alike. The impunity experienced by the perpetrators of ill-treatment towards women’s rights defenders is a thread, as Ms Mary Lawlor pointed out, and there is no political will to start holding them accountable, which acts as a deterrent for the rights defenders community.

In addition, both Ms Lawlor and Ms Al-Dosari extended on the existence of laws that not only are used against women’s rights defenders, but they systematically strip women of their freedom. Ms Al-Dosari referred to the fact that Feminism and Women’s Rights Defence are listed as a form of terrorism by the Saudi authority and used the example of shelters for women victims of domestic abuse, which are flawed.

When asked about the most effective way to exhort international pressure, both panelists addressed the reliance of an international alliance for closed democratic spaces such as Saudi Ararbia. Indeed, as Ms Lawlor stated, when there is little space for civil society, international pressure is crucial for the advancements of human rights. Just as MEP Alessandra Moretti said in her introductory remarks, a state will not be fully compliant with human rights and democratic values, until it implements effective rights and freedoms to women.

Watch the Youtube Livestream of the event here: