Saudi Arabia Easing Male Guardianship: But More is Needed

By Suad Abu-Dayyeh
AMMAN, Jordan, Aug 5 2019 – It comes as welcome news that authorities in Saudi Arabia have taken important steps towards dismantling the repressive male guardianship system, which treats women in the country as minors.

Women will no longer require permission from a male guardian to travel abroad and can apply for a passport without authorisation. They have also been granted the right to register births, marriage, and divorce, giving them greater control over family matters. The law also now stipulates that the breadwinner of the family can be either the father or the mother in relation to minors in the application of this system.

Other changes announced relate to employment regulations that extend work opportunities for women, who represent a big proportion of unemployed Saudis. Under the new ruling, all citizens now have the right to work without discrimination based on gender, disability or age.

Another welcome amendment is that employers cannot fire a woman or give notice to fire her while she is pregnant or on maternity leave.

Changes to the law were announced on Friday by royal decrees and published in the Kingdom’s official weekly Um al-Qura gazette.

Although these important advances in removing long-standing social restrictions are to be applauded, much still remains to be done to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in this deeply conservative Arab state.

Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 149 countries in the 2018 Global Gender Gap, an annual index released by the World Economic Forum that measures how women in countries around the world fare in economic and political participation, education and health.

Women in the Kingdom still require male consent to marry, live on their own, and leave prison or a domestic abuse shelter. In addition, women are barred from passing Saudi citizenship onto their children, nor can they provide consent for their children to marry.

The male guardianship system is extremely repressive, treating adult women as minors under the legal control of their guardians, who could be a husband, brother, uncle, or even a son.

Women require permission from a male family member to do many things including enroll in school, file a lawsuit, open a bank account, and access some medical procedures. Women and girls are also subject to strict dress codes and gender segregation.

This creates an oppressive society, both inside the family environment and within the country as a whole. Such wide ranging restrictions have curtailed the human rights of women, depriving them of the freedom to make essential decisions in their daily lives and preventing them from participating fully in society. Treated as second class citizens, every Saudi woman and girl is impacted from birth to death.

The new laws announced by the Saudi government have been a long time coming and it is unclear when the order will take effect. It is vital that these advances are implemented in a way that complies with the international conventions that the country has committed itself to.

Saudi Arabia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As such, it is obliged to uphold the highest standards for the promotion and protection of human rights and to take action that ends discrimination against women in all its forms.

Despite this, Saudi Arabia continues to detain women’s rights defenders who have advocated for an end to the discriminatory male guardianship system, and for changes to the deeply patriarchal society including the right for women to drive, which was finally granted in June 2018 with some restrictions to their access to the driving schools and the fees which are triple the price for by women.

Numerous activists have been imprisoned since mid-2018 solely for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of human rights, including women’s rights, in the Kingdom. This has been accompanied by horrifying reports of torture, sexual assault and other ill-treatment perpetrated by the authorities against those who have been detained.

Whilst some campaigners were temporarily released on bail earlier in the year and are still awaiting trial, others remain in prison. This includes Loujain AlHathloul, the prominent campaigner who this week spent her 30th birthday languishing in a Saudi jail.

In April 2016, Saudi Arabia announced its ambitious ‘Vision 2030’ plan to diversify the country’s economy, reduce dependence on oil, and develop its public service sectors. This included programs to promote and strengthen women’s rights.

However, the arrests of women’s rights defenders by the government have created a toxic environment where many have effectively been silenced by fears that if they express views that could be construed as critical of the state, they could face reprisals by the authorities.

Saudi Arabia’s citizens should be free to exercise their civil rights in their own country including advocating for gender equality without the threat of intimidation, arrest or torture. Calling for greater women’s rights should never be treated as a crime!

This week’s sweeping reforms denote a tangible advance in the dismantling of Saudi Arabia’s deep-rooted system of male domination and are a significant testament to the positive impact that brave activists within the country are having, often at huge personal risk and sacrifice.

The world’s gaze is firmly fixed on the Saudi authorities to ensure that the promised repeal of discriminatory legal provisions translate into tangible improvements for women and girls on the ground, and that all women’s right’s defenders who have been charged and imprisoned are immediately and unconditionally released, all charges dropped, and they face no further persecution.

A Call for Healthy, Blue Oceans in Asia and the Pacific

By Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana
BANGKOK, Thailand, Aug 5 2019 – Leaders at the Group of 20 summit last month agreed on the “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision,” which aims to reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) stands ready to support Japan and other countries in the region to ensure healthy and sustainable oceans.

Approximately 8 million tons of plastic leaks out of the global economy and into the oceans each year. Asia and the Pacific is responsible for about 60 percent of the increase in global plastic production.

Without action, the world’s oceans will contain nearly 250 million tons of plastic by 2025, further endangering our marine environment with a wide range of toxins and ultimately putting our own food sources at risk.

The commitment of G20 leaders, led by Japan, to tackle the proliferation of plastic litter through the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision aligns with the first target of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water), which is to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution, by 2025.

G20 leaders also reiterated that measures to address marine litter need to be taken nationally and internationally by all countries in partnership with relevant stakeholders. In the Asia-Pacific region, several countries have already adopted plans to combat marine plastic debris by banning single-use plastics and enacting new recycling laws.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s launch of the “MARINE Initiative” (focusing on management of wastes, recovery of marine litter, innovation and empowerment) at the G20 summit to support developing countries’ efforts, including their capacity building and infrastructure development, in waste management is a good demonstration of the kind of regional cooperation on trans-boundary issues where ESCAP can play a key role.

ESCAP’s next annual meeting, in May 2020, will feature the theme “Promoting economic, social and environmental cooperation on oceans for sustainable development.” One possible outcome of our deliberations is the creation of a voluntary “coalition of the willing” to reduce plastic marine pollution.

In a region already under stress from climate change, resource exploitation and population growth, healthy oceans mean jobs, food, identity and resilience for millions, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

The coalition would be a regional multi-stakeholder platform that would provide technical assistance and capacity building support. In line with the G20 approach, governments would be joined in this coalition by the private sector, civil society organizations, research and academic institutions, and representatives of the informal sector. These actors can all play a catalytic role for creative solutions.

Indeed, Japanese innovation can be applied to municipal recycling and composting. State-of-the-art solid waste management systems are being developed, underpinned by strong cooperation between national and local governments.

Even the organizing committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games has gotten into the act: It has a comprehensive sustainability plan inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and includes such measures as extracting materials from discarded smartphones and other small electronic devices to make the Olympic medals.

Japan also is supporting the development of marine litter monitoring technology in cooperation with other Asian countries. Its authorities are working with producers to eliminate single-use plastics and promote biodegradable polymers.

The goal is to reduce the detrimental effects on marine and costal ecosystems on which many livelihoods depend, crucial in a region where 200 million people are reliant on fisheries alone.

Japanese innovation and technology can contribute much to the region’s solutions to eliminate plastics from our oceans. Through ESCAP, we can scale these efforts across the continent, working closely with our countries and partners to build a collective response to stop marine pollution in Asia and the Pacific and reclaim our “blue oceans.”

Protect, Support and Empower Girls in Lake Chad Region

Lake Chad isn’t really a lake any more. Most of it is islands and inlets. Credit: UNHCR/A. Bahaddou

By Lakshi De Vass Gunawardena
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 5 2019 – As Lake Chad enters its 10th year of conflict, millions of young girls are being used and manipulated in grotesque ways.

Maria Sole Fanuzzi, Lake Chad Child Protection Specialist at Plan International, said: “New York City has 8.25 million people, so when we talk about the girls in the Lake Chad crisis, you have to imagine the whole city where we are now is completely filled by children, and half of that would be girls.”

She was speaking at an event co-hosted last week by the Permanent Mission of Belgium, the Government of Niger, and Plan International.

Spanning across Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, the Lake Chad crisis is a complex one, attributed to extreme poverty, climate change, underdevelopment, and attacks by the jihadist group Boko Haram, which garnered international attention with the kidnapping of 276 girls from a school in Nigeria in 2014.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), says the Lake Chad region (specifically in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger) is struggling with “the compounded impact of climate change, deep poverty, and violent extremism.”

A report by Plan International has revealed that over 15% of girls aged 10-19 had been married at least once or were currently married. As a result, the levels of girls’ education have drastically decreased.

With this, there is a severe lack of information concerning sexual and reproductive health. The Lake Chad basin has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths anywhere in the world, with about 773.4 deaths for every 100,000 successful births.

“Conflicts and disasters amplify this relative powerlessness of girls,’” said Sole, pointing out that the crisis affects girls disproportionately, where they are faced with situations, such as the deprivation of basic needs, sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices such as trafficking, forced as suicide bombers and child marriages.

Those that survive and do manage to return home are confronted with discrimination and stigmatization from their communities and are even accused of witchcraft, she said.

“They are considered to have somehow absorbed the demon of the enemy- to have somehow given their consent,” she explained.

“And for the children in there that might have conceived during their captivity are unwanted, unrecognized and chased away.”

Credit: World Bank

Sole went on to narrate the story of a girl from Cameroon who stated that “If a girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, and no matter if we consent or not, it is a sign of terrible doom, that will fall on her house.”

She then described a case two months ago where a girl had been abused, and thus conceived out of wedlock returned home only to be rejected for “bringing shame to her house.”

Still, “some important initiatives have been taken,” Sole announced.

These initiatives include strengthening of social and emotional learning; building confidence; fostering relationships; harmonizing with their communities to build safe environments; economic empowerment and adequate education. However, it is important to educate the boys as well, she noted.

“The engagement of men and boys is crucial to tackle gendered social norms. the change cannot happen if masculinity continues to be seen as the affirmation of a predominance over the other gender,” Sole told IPS.

Boys and men get raped constantly in the world, and conflict all the more exasperated the exposure and the impact of this phenomenon.

“They are exploited as child workers, they are trafficked, and when they are deprived of sexual and reproductive health rights they are also deprived of their own right to a positive fatherhood,” she added.

“After all, the gendered norms that prescribe masculinity as an aggressive form of domination deprive also men and boys of that peaceful coexistence that eventually turn into the many males dominated wars we see worldwide. So, no wonder that statistics show that more equal societies are also more peaceful ones.”

“Boys and girls do share a common destiny and as much as we recognize the different perspectives of one and the other our ultimate goal is to empower both of them to live free from oppression and free to express their own human personality to the fullest and greatest extent,” she declared.

“We need to look at adolescents for what they are- humans.”

Asked what role Plan International will have going forward, Jessica Malter, Senior Communications and Advocacy Advisor at Planned International, told IPS: “Plan International is committed to working together with international partners and local entities to advance girls rights in the Lake Chad Basin and worldwide”

She further noted that they are working on developing integrated programs “that address the complex and interconnected issues affecting adolescents, such as lack of education, child marriage, early pregnancy, child labour and sexual exploitation and that

“We cannot continue to address these issues with single-sector responses or ad-hoc interventions.”

She also stressed the importance of incorporating the young generation stating that “including young people in the decision making that impacts their lives is absolutely critical, and note that

“We still do not sufficiently listen to young people, and particularly not adolescent girls who are often invisible”, said Malter.

“It is rare though, that girls are given the opportunity to express their views.
That said, they do have a way of tackling the issue.

Malter said “one way we are addressing this is with the Girls Get Equal, which is a global campaign that provides girls and young women the tools and resources they need to demand power, freedom and representation. age disaggregated data, to strengthen evidence and better inform programmes.”

Asked about what surprised her the most about the survivors she encountered, Sole said: “The most striking thing in almost every encounter is to see how incredibly resilient girls and boys are. They face the unspoken, some of them have witnessed the slaughter of their own parents, almost all of them are mothers to their younger siblings, and yet you can see a strength to restart and to rebuild their lives that is uncommon in most of our wealthier societies.

“Girls agency is something that can be at times challenging, but the recognition of this factor is the only way to trace back the logical, historical and societal meaning into the events that we witness and within which we move.”

“Girls and women cannot be confined to the role of the victims and need to play a major role into the rebuilding of their own lives whenever conflicts have broken the flow of their existence and shaken their previous foundations.”

With this is mind, it will be a victory to watch the growth and success of these children if/ when it happens.

“They are the beginning and the end of their own history making.” Sole concluded.

Tanzania Switches Track, Charges Kabendera with Economic Crimes

Freelance journalist Erick Kabendera has been charged with money laundering, tax evasion, and assisting an organised crime racket. Committee to Protect Journalist’s Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo said prosecutors should immediately drop the charges against Kabendera and Tanzania should end its practice of retaliating against critical voices. Courtesy: Amnesty International

By Committee to Protect Journalists
NAIROBI, Aug 5 2019 – Prosecutors in Tanzania today charged freelance journalist Erick Kabendera with money laundering, tax evasion, and assisting an organized crime racket, according to a copy of the charge sheet. When he was detained on July 29, the Dar es Salaam police chief said at a press conference that police were investigating Kabendera’s citizenship status.

“It seems that for the past week, authorities have been searching for a way to justify their detention of this critical freelance journalist. First, they claimed Erick Kabendera’s citizenship was in question, today they have levelled drastically different charges, which call into question their motive for holding him,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Prosecutors should immediately drop the charges against Kabendera and Tanzania should end its practice of retaliating against critical voices.”

The charge sheet, viewed by CPJ, alleged that Kabendera committed the offences between January 2015 and July 2019. Under Tanzania’s Criminal Procedure Act, people accused of money laundering do not qualify for bail. Kabendera could remain in detention for the duration of his trial, Jones Sendodo, one of the lawyers representing the journalist, told CPJ. If convicted of assisting a criminal racket, Kabendera could be jailed for up to15 years.

Since his arrest, authorities have searched the journalist’s home at least twice, confiscated his passport and other documents, and questioned his mother,according to media reports. In addition to being interrogated about his citizenship, Kabendera was also questioned on allegations of sedition and cybercrime offences, according to the BBC and other reports.

In a statement last week, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition said that Kabendera’s rights to due process had been violated, as police moved him from station to station after arrest, denying him access to legal representation and his family. In a video posted to Twitter today, Jebra Kambole, who is also representing Kabendera, said the journalist has not yet been questioned for the crimes on the charge sheet, adding, “It is journalism work that has brought Erick here.”

Kabendera will be detained at Segerea prison in Dar es Salaam until August 19, when the next hearing in his case is scheduled, his lawyer, Sendodo, said.