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Saudi women face systematic discrimination: UN report
(AFP, February 1, 2008)

Geneva - Women in Saudi Arabia are the victims of systematic and pervasive discrimination across all aspects of social life, a United Nations report said on Friday.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged the Saudi government to take concrete steps to enforce gender equality and end violence against women.

The committee overseas the application of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a UN treaty regarded as a global bill of rights for women.

"Neither the Constitution nor other legislation embodies the principle of equality between women and men," the committee said in a report.

Saudi Arabia is governed by Wahabism, a strict interpretation of Islam that -- in the name of Sharia law -- imposes almost complete separation of the sexes.

As such, it is illegal for a woman to be in the company of a man who is not in her immediate family.

Women suffer from domestic violence, poor healthcare provision and high levels of illiteracy, the committee said in its report.

They are also shackled by the obligation to have a male "tutor" or guardian to accompany them for many daily tasks, it found.

"The concept of male guardianship contributes to the prevalence of a patriarchal ideology with stereotypes and the persistence of deep-rooted cultural norms that discriminate against women," the report said.

"The level of representation of women in public and political life, at the local, national, and international levels and in particular in decision-making positions, is very low," it added.

The committee also expressed concern about female domestic migrant workers in the kingdom, who are vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation and do not have ready access to the law.

Earlier this month, a Saudi delegation told a meeting of the committee in Geneva that "Saudi society is still largely a tribal society and changes in mentality allowing new ideas to be accepted take time".

Riyadh also claimed that "Islam, as a realistic religion, admits that total equality between man and woman is contrary to reality, as various scientific studies on their psychological differences have shown".