Publication date: 08/03/2021

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, 161 parliamentarians from the German, UK, Irish and European Parliaments have signed a joint statement in support of Saudi women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and their struggle for gender equality, calling on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release WHRDs currently in detention, end all forms of discrimination against women, and fully dismantle the country’s male guardianship system. 

The statement, organised by ALQST, has been signed by 70 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), 48 German MPs, 22 British parliamentarians, and 21 Irish parliamentarians. It notes the Saudi authorities’ lifting in recent years of some of the restrictions women face under the male guardianship system, including allowing women to drive and obtain passports, but highlights how many other aspects of the system – a legal framework that treats women as minors – continue to restrict their fundamental liberties in matters such as education, employment, health, marriage, and nationality. Recent reforms to protect women from abuse lack adequate means of enforcement, leaving many trapped in abusive relationships, and “disobedience” towards male guardians remains a crime. 

The statement deplores the Saudi authorities’ treatment of the very women who have led the fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, many of whom were arrested in 2018, detained and tortured. Some, including Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi, are still in detention while their trials continue; others have been conditionally released but remain under heavy restrictions. WHRD Loujain al-Hathloul, released on 10 February 2021 after spending over 1,000 days in prison, still faces three years of probation and a five-year travel ban. On 2 March 2021, al-Hathloul appeared in court to appeal against the verdict imposed on her for her activism, while the Public Prosecutor has appealed for an increased sentence. 

ALQST’s Head of Advocacy Julia Legner commented: “The support of so many parliamentarians of different parties and from various countries for this initiative shows that large parts of the international community are not persuaded by the Saudi authorities’ claims to be significantly improving Saudi women’s lives. On International Women’s Day, European politicians are standing in solidarity with Saudi women who continue to face systemic discrimination, and with the brave WHRDs who remain unable to freely speak, travel or carry out their peaceful activism.” 

The joint statement has been sent to the Saudi Arabian embassies in Germany, the UK, and Ireland, and to the Mission of Saudi Arabia to the European Union.

ALQST thanks all of the parliamentarians for their support, and reiterates the call for the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against the women human rights defenders and to release them immediately and unconditionally. Furthermore, ALQST calls on the authorities to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, repealing all laws and ending all practices that discriminate against women.

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