As June 24 approaches, the day when women across Saudi Arabia will officially be allowed to drive following the rescinding of a decades-old ban on female motorists, the Kingdom is paving the way to ensure that the transition is a smooth one. A number of driving schools and events for women have already been established since last year, social change is being witnessed at every level, and just last week a new anti-harassment law was announced.
Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers passed the long sought anti-harassment law, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of almost SAR 300,000 (around 80,000 US dollars). According to the Kingdom’s Center for Communications, the Council passed the law only a day after the 150-seat Shura Council, Saudi Arabia’s legislative advisory body, approved the draft bill with a majority of 84 votes.
In addition to the prison term and fine, the bill also doubles the potential penalties for several other factors, including multiple occurrences of the harassment; occurrence of the crime in the workplace, place of study or care home or shelter; or if the perpetrator occupying a position of authority vis-a-vis the victim. Other factors are if the victim was unconscious; the offence was being committed at a time of crisis, accident, or disaster; or if the crime was against a child or person with special needs.
According to Saudi Gazette, prior to the announcement of this new law, harassment was a crime in Saudi Arabia for which there were no specific laws to punish perpetrators. Instead, it was left to the discretion of judges to issue a verdict. Speaking to Arab News, Shura council member Hoda Al-Helaissi explained that the anti0hrassment law is indeed timely.
“I believe this law to be of extreme importance… Driving, although probably the main reason for it, is not the only one [The law] aims to combat the crime of harassment, prevent its occurrence, punish the perpetrators and protect the victims, in order to preserve the privacy, dignity and personal freedom of individuals guaranteed by the provisions of Islamic law and regulations,” she said.
The bill and the decree allowing women to get behind the wheel after years of being forbidden to drive are part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a post-oil economy plan spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that aims to increase the percentage of women in the nation’s workforce from 23 per cent to 28 per cent by 2020.