Saudi Arabia's King Khalid Foundation launches anti-domestic abuse campaign in 2013. Source: Arab News

In an effort to bring women's rights in Saudi Arabia to the spotlight, women recently kick-started an online campaign highlighting the intensity of abuse in the kingdom. 

They are exposing the different forms of abuse encountered on a daily basis, under a hashtag titled "Violence Against Saudi Women." 

The abuse goes beyond just verbal and sexual harassment, of which a number of cases have been reported in recent months.

Women are heavily criticizing the legal system in place which cultivates a misogynistic environment, further encouraging violence and discrimination against women.

One such example is the kingdom's male guardianship system, under which being absent from home is considered a criminal offense, even if a woman is fleeing abuse.

"The legal system of the kingdom provides a 'freedom ticket' to the abuser"

The case of Majid Manei Al Omeir, a Saudi husband who allegedly abused his wife, is just one example of existing loopholes in the system. 

Earlier this month, a video - in which Omeir's wife was heard screaming for her life as she was being beaten - went viral on social media. 

Soon after, authorities launched an investigation into the case, but claimed the incident had been fabricated, adding that no evidence of abuse was found.

However, the woman who filmed the video alongside thousands of others on social media have claimed authorities were covering up the crime due to the fact that Al Omeir is related to Assir governorate's official spokesman, Saad bin Abdullah Al Thabit.

"A projection of true reality of the lives of Saudi women"

A reminder of cases such as that of Amna Al Juaid:

In October 2017, Saudi national Amna Al Juaid pleaded for her life in a series of videos that went viral on social media. 

In one of two videos shared by her friends on Twitter, the victim was heard saying:

"I am recording this video today, because it might be the last video in my life and also for you to know I am real and I am here," Al Juaid said in Arabic.

In another video, the young woman revealed she had been abused by her own father. She explained that after enduring years of abuse, she finally fled her home when her father tried to force her into marrying a cousin.

Although the kingdom criminalized domestic abuse in 2013, women who suffer from violence at the hands of their male guardians find it extremely difficult to escape and legally charge their abusers.

And the tragic case of Dina Ali:

In April 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom, a 24-year-old Saudi woman, was stopped in Manila airport while attempting to escape her family and seek asylum in Australia.

She was forcibly returned to Riyadh with relatives and has not been heard from since.

"Being prevented from leaving the country is not protection"

The male guardianship system was heavily criticized

Under the kingdom's guardianship system, a male guardian - usually a father, brother, or husband - has legal rights over a woman's freedom of movement, ability to work, and other aspects of life.

In recent years, there have been several attempts to reverse various aspects of the guardianship system. 

The kingdom has amended a number of laws in an effort to empower women, including a new royal decree allowing women to apply for work permits as well as medical and educational services – without male consent.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Commerce and Investment announced that women will no longer need their male guardian’s permission to start a business.

However, these so-called "milestones" are not enough, as Saudi women's rights campaigner, Ms. Saffa, once told StepFeed.

In 2017, the country ranked 138 out of 144 in the "Global Gender Gap Report" by the World Economic Forum.

"Discriminatory male guardianship system"

Personal stories were brought forth

"We don't have a law to protect us"

"We tried to convey our voice"

"He threatened to kill her"

Domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia

The progress has proven to be slow, but Saudi Arabia has taken a number of steps to address domestic abuse. 

The kingdom criminalized domestic violence in 2013 following an organized media campaign. 

In 2016, the kingdom set up a domestic violence reporting centerIn its first three days of operations, the center received 1,890 domestic violence reports.

According to a 2014 report published by Al Arabiya, instances of domestic violence have been on the rise in the kingdom, despite the laws passed to help curb the problem.

Still, domestic abuse in the country continues to be under-reported as many victims live with families who normalize gender-based violence and are often forced to remain silent about what they endure.

Harassment in Saudi Arabia

Source: YouTube

In 2017, King Salman issued a royal decree calling upon the kingdom's interior minister to draft a law criminalizing sexual harassment, enforcing penalties on perpetrators. 

However, it remains unknown when such legislation will take ground. 

According to a 2014 study, nearly 80 percent of women aged between 18 and 48 said they have experienced sexual harassment in the country. 

In 2016, Saudi Arabia witnessed an 11.4 percent increase in sexual harassment rates, compared to 2014, according to The Institute for International Research, a Canadian institute specialized in research and field studies. 

In recent years, cases of harassment have made the rounds online, ultimately leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. 

In 2017, authorities arrested an Arab employer who had harassed several of his female employees, trying to force them into having relationships with him. 

Earlier this year, a taxi driver was also arrested in the kingdom after harassing a female passenger. Footage of the incident showed a man groping and abusing a woman in the back seat of a car. 

Contrary to popular belief, harassment even happens during Hajj

Hajj, hijab, Mecca
Source: Pinterest

Earlier this year, women began speaking up about their experiences with sexual harassment while carrying out tawaf around the Kaaba during their pilgrimage to Mecca.

This ultimately sparked an online campaign under a hashtag titled "Mosque Me Too," which saw hundreds of women share their stories of abuse during Hajj.

Egyptian-American feminist, Mona Eltahawy, started the hashtag by sharing her own experience of sexual assault during hajj when she was just 15-years-old.