Saudi activists are working on setting up a group that will promote women's rights in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, one of them said in remarks published on Monday.
The social affairs ministry has given preliminary approval to the creation of "Ansar al-Maraah" (Supporters of Women) after two years of negotiations, Suliman Al Salman told the English-language daily Arab News.
Twenty-one men and women - including researchers, academics and activists - are involved in setting up the new body, which aims to "help women improve their social, educational and cultural levels," the newspaper said.
"The majority of women today are under the dominance of men" in Saudi Arabia and cannot be active members of society because of the restrictions imposed on them, Salman said.
Saudi women activists have petitioned King Abdullah twice in recent months to demand the lifting of a ban on women driving, one of a host of constraints imposed on them in the kingdom, which applies a rigorous doctrine of Islam known as Wahhabism.
Women are forced to cover from head to toe in public, and cannot mix with men other than relatives, or travel without written permission from their male guardian.
"Helping women to get their rights, which are ignored or suppressed by law or customs, does not conflict with Islam, which does not prevent women from utilizing their own money, driving or choosing their own husbands," Salman said.
The United Nations independent expert on women's rights said on Monday she will visit Saudi Arabia after the oil-rich Gulf country 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, according to a statement from her office in Geneva. She will report her findings to the UN Human Rights Council.
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. (AFP)
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