Saudi Arabia launches first campaign to stop violence against women

Abuse of women has been a taboo subject, but in a bold first step a new advertising campaign encourages female victims to come out of hiding.

Saudi women pray during Eid al-Adha religious celebrations on a street in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A new campaign sponsored by King Khalid's Foundation is raising awareness of the abuse of women in the kingdom, the physical effects of which may be hidden behind a veil.

Saudi Arabia has launched its first visual campaign against the abuse of women, designed to encourage female victims to come out of hiding and to have a global impact at a time of change in the kingdom.

The advertisement shows a woman wearing a full veil or niqab, her made-up eyes staring out from the heavy cloth with one of them blackened and bruised.

Underneath, a caption reads: “Some things can’t be covered – fighting women’s abuse together.”

The campaign is a collaboration between the King Khalid's Foundation (KKF) – a royal nonprofit organization – and the Riyadh branch of advertising agency Memac Ogilvy.

“Women’s abuse is a real taboo subject in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said a statement by the campaign. “Nobody really knows the statistics, as it is never spoken about.”

The goal was to create an ad that would have a significant impact worldwide at a time when women in the ultra-conservative kingdom are starting to see some changes.

Recently, King Abdullah swore in the country's first female members of the Shura Council, and the Justice Ministry registered the first female lawyer. Saudi women have been allowed to ride bicycles and motorbikes, signaling a shift toward greater freedoms in a country where they still can’t drive cars and have to be escorted by male guardians wherever they go.

“The veil does not only hide women's abuse, but it’s also a representation of the social veil behind which a lot of societal deficiencies hide,” Fadi Saad, managing director of Memac Ogilvy Riyadh, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said the backing of the King Khalid's Foundation – with its links to the kingdom’s royal family – was key to being able to launch such a potentially controversial campaign in the conservative country.  

KKF has also identified a list of social policies they are working toward legislating and implementing, Saad added.

“It is one bold first step toward legislation to fight women’s abuse in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We believe that the authorities are ready to support such a drive today given the evolution that is taking place in the country.”

This article originally appeared at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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