The Women 20 Summit (W20) hosted virtually by Saudi Arabia this month must be used to speak up for jailed Saudi women’s rights champions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, calling on participants to refuse to play a role in the kingdom’s “whitewashing efforts”.
Attendees of W20 – a summit that is sponsored by the Group of 20 (G20) coalition of nations and that makes sure gender considerations are reflected in world leaders’ agendas and policy commitments – must advocate for the end of all discrimination against Saudi women, HRW said in a statement on Tuesday.
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“The Saudi government’s use of women’s rights to divert attention from other serious abuses is well-documented,” it said.
“Recent changes, including the right to drive and to travel without male guardian permission, might be significant but do not hide the fact that some of the women who campaigned for these changes still languish behind bars.”
HRW said participants should be aware of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s government’s crackdown against women’s rights activists.
“Beginning in May 2018, authorities arrested prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul and several others, just weeks before the driving ban was lifted,” the group said.
“Al-Hathloul, well-known for her campaigning against the driving ban, was held incommunicado for three months following her arrest, and family members say that authorities subjected her to electric shocks, whippings, and sexual harassment in detention.”
According to HRW, others have faced the same or similar abuse.
Refuse to whitewash
“While courageous women are subjected to torture for peaceful activities, the Saudi government seeks to assert itself on the international stage as a ‘reforming’ power’,” HRW said.
W20 participants should not play a role in Saudi Arabia’s “whitewashing efforts” and must use their platform to speak up for Saudi women’s rights champions, HRW said.
“If they are committed to ‘realising opportunities for all’, that includes all Saudi women activists behind bars, and numerous unnamed victims of discrimination,” the statement said.