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UN women's rights expert to visit Saudi Arabia

Jan 29, 2008



GENEVA (AFP) The United Nations independent expert on women's rights said Monday she will visit Saudi Arabia after the kingdom came under fierce scrutiny from a UN committee over its gender equality record.

Yakin Erturk, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, will visit Saudi Arabia from February 4 to February 13 at the government's invitation, her office said in a statement.

Erturk, a sociology professor at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, will meet government authorities, UN officials and individual victims of violence against women during her visit.

She will report her findings to the UN Human Rights Council.

Saudia Arabia is governed by Wahabism, a strict interpretation of Islam that -- in the name of Sharia law -- imposes 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.

Earlier this month, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women quizzed Saudi officials on numerous aspects of women's life in the kingdom, including the fact that men have the right to twice the inheritance women are allowed, and that women are obliged to have a "tutor" accompany them for many daily tasks.

"Without the presence of this tutor (guardian), a woman cannot study, access health services, marry, travel abroad, have a business or even access an ambulance in an emergency," one of the experts on the committee said.

The Saudi delegation highlighted in a report they submitted to the committee that "Saudi society is still largely a tribal society and changes in mentality allowing new ideas to be accepted take time".

In its report, Riyadh also wrote 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".

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.



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