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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 18:54 GMT
UN call for Saudi women's rights
By Frances Harrison
Religious affairs reporter

Saudi women in Hofuf
The UN says Saudi women face restrictions
Women in Saudi Arabia should be allowed more basic freedoms, according to a UN anti-discrimination committee.

It says the practice of needing a man's permission to marry, work, travel or be educated should end.

In a report, the committee also says there should be more laws offering protection to women.

But the Saudi government, in submissions before the report was published, said there was no discrimination against women.

Victims of crime

Overall the UN is very critical of Saudi Arabia's approach to women's rights. It even expresses concern about the Saudi state's understanding of the idea of equality - saying similar rights for men and women is not the same as equal rights.

The UN highlights the situation of women who have been victims of crime. In a recent case, a woman who was gang raped was initially sentenced to jail and lashes.

The court found she was wrong to have been with a man who was not her relative at the time of the attack.

The UN report says social attitudes and the system of male guardianship deter women from reporting crimes and lead to a patriarchal system.

Some improvements

It complains men and women do not have equal rights when it comes to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance and says female illiteracy is still high in the world's top oil exporter.

The UN does concede there have been visible improvements in the number of women in the Saudi workforce, but complains there are too few women in politics.

Last month a Saudi delegation told the UN body - the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women - that human rights in the kingdom were based on Sharia law.

The delegation said Saudi society was still largely a tribal one where new ideas took time to be accepted.

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