Saudi Arabia's laws, derived from Islamic Shariah, adopt the principle of complementary equality between men and women, which takes into account the different characteristics of both sexes, and ultimately achieve justice. The Kingdom believes that an integrated relation between the two sexes is an ideal way to promote and protect human rights, including women's rights and eliminate discrimination against women. It should be noted that the definition of the term "discrimination against women" stated in Article (1) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is consistent with the practices in force in the Kingdom. The Kingdom's laws do not provide for any distinction, exclusion or restriction resulting in impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields.
The principle of equality, which is essentially in contrast to discrimination, including discrimination against women, which is set out in Article (8) of the Basic Law of Governance, stipulating: "The system of government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is established on the foundation of justice, Shura (consultation) and equality in compliance with Islamic Shariah" and which is implicitly contained in in Article (26) of the same Law which stipulates: "The State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic Shariah" in addition to other principles and provisions of the Basic Law of Governance and the Kingdom's laws derived from it – is consistent with the relevant international standards. These provisions criminalize discrimination and violence against women and are implemented by institutions established or supported for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights, including women's rights, such as the Human Rights Commission, the National Society for Human Rights and other institutions, as well as the existing government agencies.
It should be noted that absolute equality between men and women is observed in most areas of human rights such as the right to work, education, health, economic rights and others.
What measures have been taken to promote equality between men and women with regard to the right to work?
Regarding equality between men and women and the fight against discrimination in employment, the Labor Law does not differentiate between men and women in rights and duties, nor does it draw any distinction in equal pay for work of equal value and quality. The Kingdom is a party to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 100 concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value and Convention No. 111 concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation. The Ministerial Decision no. 2370/1, dated 18/8/1431H, corresponding to 28/08/2010, was issued to prohibit any discrimination in wages between male and female workers for work of equal value. There is full equality between men and women as regards the jobseeker's allowance, where women receive the same amount as men, as well as in the training and employment assistance provided by the Human Resources Development Fund to men and women employed in the private sector, both in terms of the amount of subsidy for training costs, wages or duration of assistance. The Labor Law has taken into account the nature of women and has assigned a full section to them (Part 9), which includes additional provisions relating to women's employment in the private sector so as to provide further protection to them. The Labor Law was amended by Royal Decree No. (M/134), dated 27/11/1440H, to ensure equality between men and women in rights and duties, and in service conditions. Article (3) of the Labor Law states that work is the right of every citizen and that people must not be discriminated against on the basis of sex, as well as equality in the retirement age between men and women (60 years). The amendments also entailed prohibiting the dismissal or dismissal with a notice of a female worker during her pregnancy, maternity leave or during illness resulting from either pregnancy or delivery. Likewise, the Social Insurance Law has been amended, particularly Article (38), in order to achieve equality between men and women in terms of the retirement age, which has become (60) years for both sexes.
In order to promote the role of women in particular in political participation, the Royal Decree No. A/44, dated 29/02/1434H, corresponding to 12/01/2013, was issued to amend Article (3) of the Shura Council Law to enable women to acquire full membership of the Council and occupy a minimum of 20% of the seats. Before the amendment, women participated in the work of the Council only as advisors. Pursuant to Royal Decree No. A/45, promulgated on 29/02/1434H, corresponding to 12/01/2013, the members of the new session of the Shura Council were designated and they included 30 women. This underlines the determination to broaden the base of national participation of women at all levels.
What measures have been taken to promote equality between men and women with regard to the right to education and training?
The laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia guarantee all citizens the right to education free of charge without any discrimination. Article (30) of the Basic Law of Governance stipulates: "The State shall provide public education and shall commit itself to the eradication of illiteracy". Article (233) of the public policy for education in the Kingdom issued by the Council of Ministers' Resolution No. 779 dated 16-17/09/1389H, corresponding to (26-27/11/1969), provided for free education at all levels and stages. Article (15) of the education policy has confirmed linking education in all stages with the general development plan of the state which aims at realization of a proper sound partnership between men and women. As the Kingdom believes in the important role of education in the achievement of sustainable development and enforcement of human rights, it has made several efforts to provide education and combat illiteracy on the basis of gender equality.
It is important in this respect to note that the educational system in the Kingdom is essentially based on equality between men and women in all its aspects with regard to the mechanisms of admission and enrollment, academic curricula, testing, qualifications of teachers and lecturers, or quality of school facilities and equipment. The Kingdom has established a number of university campuses for girls, such as Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, and the girls' campuses of the Imam Muhammad bin Saud University and King Saud University. Female enrollment rates in public and higher education show a steady increase, making it clear that equality between males and females in education has become a reality.
On 17/10/1438H, the Ministry of Education launched the Physical Education Initiative for Promoting Female Students' Health, the goal of which is to establish and equip 500 gymnasiums.
As for vocational training, the number of female technical colleges in the various regions of the Kingdom has doubled in ten years. The first college was established in 2007, and the number amounted to (16) colleges in 2017. This type of college is concerned with providing qualitative training for women to raise their competence and qualify them to enter the job market. A special center for career guidance and job coordination has been established to supervise, guide and set up the necessary policies to guide individuals towards the appropriate profession, skills and training in line with the job market.
With regard to scholarships and subsidies, the existing programs rely on providing equal opportunities in education and training for both sexes, and in accordance with the same statutory requirements for admission procedures. The proportion of scholarships directed to females has significantly increased both in connection with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Scholarship Program or with internal scholarships at Saudi universities, in line with the "Kingdom's Vision 2030" and related strategies. Guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Plan 2030 to reduce illiteracy to the lowest level by continuing to launch flexible programs such as "Illiteracy-Free Society Program", "Illiteracy-Free Town Program", "Qawafel Al-Nour Project", "Learning Neighborhood Program" and other programs aimed at reaching illiterate women in various regions and governorates of the Kingdom, including provinces and villages. Combating illiteracy is also carried out by eliminating the dropout of girls from education and offering incentives to target groups. The rate of illiteracy in the Kingdom 25 years ago was (60%), while in 2017 it became (4.67%) and among women (7.29%).
What measures have been taken to deal with female students' drop-out from school?
Several measures have been taken to reduce the dropout of girls from education, including awareness-raising measures. Many training courses were organized for female school principals, student counsellors and teachers to equip them with the necessary skills to deal with girls by introducing to them the age characteristics and technical needs of female students. Student counseling programs implemented at educational institutions reduce the number of female dropouts, urge female students who drop out of school and their families to return to school, and identify the causes of dropout. Moreover, the admission and enrollment rules and regulations in force in public education permit long-term female dropouts to return to school.
What measures have been taken to promote equality between men and women in access to health services?
Article 31 of the Basic Law of Governance affirms the right to receive health care for both men and women, stipulating: "The State shall be responsible for the care of public health, and shall provide health care to every citizen and his family in case of emergency, illness, disability and old age". The Kingdom's laws related to the health field ensure that women are entitled to have access to health care. There is no restriction on exercising this right. This right is also given to foreign women residing in the Kingdom through the cooperative health insurance system and other related laws. Indicators show a development in the area of women's health, including the following:
- The average life expectancy at birth for females has become (76.3) in 2017;
- A decrease in maternal mortality rate during birth (per 100,000 live births) from (48) in 1990 to (12) in 2017;
- An increase in the rate of live attended by health professionals from 88% in 1990 to 98% in 2016;
- An increase in the rate of pregnant mothers who received professional health care from 88% in 1990 to 98% in 2016;
- The competent authorities have carried out a number of programs and mechanisms aimed at raising the level of women's health, including:
- Early detection of women's health clinic, which offers mobile services, including early detection of diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and introducing health education;
- Health education programs for the prevention of anemia and iron deficiency, which are implemented on a regular basis in schools, shopping malls and waiting rooms at health facilities;
- Advanced pregnancy program;
- National Program for Supporting Breastfeeding;
- Early detection of breast cancer.
- Healthy marriage program, which provides services for the premarital detection of certain genetic and communicable diseases such as: thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, hepatitis C & B, and HIV.
- Awareness-raising programs for balanced health nutrition.
Within the framework of the general strategy set up by the State to develop the human element, programs have been developed to raise the scientific level and efficiency of national cadres and encourage them to specialize in all fields of health and medical professions, focusing on the development of training inputs and the continuous development of curricula and training methods, with special attention to scientific and field application, and laying the foundations and controls for training and internal and external scholarships.
With regard to non-maternal health problems, the prevalence of HIV has been reduced through several means, namely raising awareness about the disease, targeting high-risk groups and reducing risks by increasing the number of counseling and screening clinics, ensuring safe blood transfusion, and preventing infection by using healthy practices. Measures have been taken to control and prevent the spread of HIV. The National Program to Combat HIV is the focus of national efforts aiming to control and prevent the disease. The program seeks to achieve the following objectives:
- Enhance the availability, exchange and use of strategic information on HIV that will guide the development and implementation of evidence-based policies, programs and services;
- Expand and improve the quality of HIV prevention programs and services for the most at risk populations (MARPs) with a view to reaching all targeted groups;
- Upgrade and improve the quality of key HIV prevention programs and other services for the general population, with a particular focus on the targeted groups;
- Enhance quality, expand coverage and use comprehensive treatment, care and (self) support for people living with HIV, in accordance with international standards;
- Strengthen social, legal and political environments that enable a multisectoral national response to HIV, with particular attention given to people living with HIV and MARPs;
- Enahnce and build technical, organizational and institutional capacities to coordinate, implement, monitor and evaluate decentralization to ensure an effective and multisectoral response to HIV.
Development plans and health programs and policies have taken into account the upgrading of health services offered to rural populations. Obstacles faced by women living in rural areas in accessing health services have been overcome. In addition, budgets have been allocated to establish a number of medical cities, hospitals, and primary care centers in various regions of the Kingdom. The Kingdom contains (470) hospitals and (70844) beds with a rate of (22.3) beds per (10,000) inhabitants, including (16) Ministry of Health gynecology and obstetrics hospitals, in addition to the increase in the number of primary health centers to (2361) in 2017 covering all regions of the Kingdom and serving governorates and villages as well as cities.
With regard to non-Saudi women's access to health services, critical health cases are received by emergency departments at public and private hospitals, regardless of any consideration beyond the current situation. As for regular health cases of legal residents, they are governed by the Cooperative Health Insurance Law issued by Royal Decree No. M/10 dated 1/5/1420H (13/8/1999) which aims This Law aims at providing and regulating health care to non-Saudi residents of the Kingdom. Worthy of note is that the commitment of expatriates to both the Residency and Labor Laws enables concerned agencies to provide and protect their rights, including the right to health.