CEDAW V. Saudi Arabia

Very big news coming from Geneva. This from the New York Times:

A United Nations human rights body called on Saudi Arabia on Friday to immediately end its system of male guardianship which it said severely limits the basic freedoms of women in the kingdom.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in its first scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s gender equality record, said Islamic Sharia law should not trump an international women’s rights treaty that Riyadh signed in 2000.

The committee’s 23 independent experts urged Saudi Arabia to “amend its legislation to confirm that international treaties have precedence over domestic laws,” and “enact a comprehensive gender equality law.”

They also said that Riyadh should “take immediate steps to end the practice of male guardianship over women” and work to eliminate “negative cultural practices and stereotypes” which discriminate against women.

Read more about CEDAW. As with all of these sorts of treaties, there is no mechanism to force Riyadh to abide by its protocols. Still, invoking international treaties in domestic human rights disputes can have the effect of building up domestic and international support for the aggrieved population. (See: Apartheid South Africa, or more recently, attempts by the United Nations Human Rights Council to chastise Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.) This resolution can certainly has the potential to be a rallying cry for activists agitating for greater rights of women in the Kingdom of Saud.