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Saudi working on sexual harassment law

Saudi working on sexual harassment law

The conservative kingdom, where women need permission from their male family members to work, is planning to pass a law against sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

October 7, 2008 3:29 by

Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council and Labor Ministry is currently drafting a law to prevent the sexual harassment of women in the workplace, reports Arab News, quoting the newspaper Al-Madinah. The draft law suggests a fine of SR50,000 (almost $13,300) and a prison sentence of up to three years to people found guilty of sexually harassing female subordinates.

The proposal apparently states that apart from physical contact, the law would cover harassment over the phone or through physical gestures or speech, include hanging lewd pictures in the office, provocative comments or jokes, any attempts for out-of-office meet-ups or offers of rides after the woman has declined. The law also would forbid using managerial power to make women employees stay longer at the office.

The law reportedly aims at “reducing incidence of harassment in workplaces with women’s sections, such as hospitals and advertising agencies.”

While such a law would certainly empower working women, according to reports less than 10 percent of the Saudi workforce is female. An article in The Independent earlier this year quoted a female entrepreneur who runs an all-female office: She complained that, by law, her staff must vacate the premises if a delivery man comes to drop off a package.

However, there is a growing gap in Saudi Arabia between the rules as they are preached and they are practiced. Many women working in mixed settings now remove their headscarves while in the office, for instance – even in meetings with male strangers, and even in Riyadh, which is among the more conservative cities.

In 2005, Saudi’s Council of Ministers passed a resolution aimed at expanding employment opportunities for women. It said that women can work in all fields that “suit their nature,” but even that has not yet been implemented, according to Human Rights Watch.

Saudi law also requires that a woman must receive the consent of her male guardian – her father, husband or brother, or even a son – in order to work outside the home.

Wouldn’t allowing women to drive, which is also banned, and providing more opportunities for women encourage more female entrepreneurs in the kingdom?

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