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Thu 11 Dec 2008 01:45 AM

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Saudi women's group wins EU rights prize

First award of the prize marks 60th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A Saudi charity which helps divorced and underprivileged women has won a European Union prize for human rights groups in the Gulf, the Riyadh office of the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The Al-Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women won the first Chaillot Prize over several other rights groups for its range of activities, including preparing underprivileged and under-educated women for jobs, setting up a school for Down Syndrome children, and assisting needy families, according to the Commission.

The award was announced to mark the 60th anniversary on Wednesday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, originally presented to the UN General Assembly at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.

Several rights groups in member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council were shortlisted for the prize, which brings the winner 6,000 euros ($7,760).

"With the launching of the Chaillot Prize, the EC desires to acknowledge the extraordinary work which is done by some institutions and individuals in the field of human rights in all the Gulf countries," said Antonia Calvo, the EC deputy head of mission for the region.

Al-Nahda is one of Saudi Arabia's oldest and most prominent non-governmental organisations, and its first foundation for women, founded in 1962 under the auspices of two respected princesses, Princess Sara Al-Faisal and Princess Latifa Al-Faisal.

Aside from helping thousands of poor women learn crafts and trades to help support themselves or augment family income, the group helps to provide housing to poor families and operates health awareness programmes for poor women.

The prize will be awarded in a Riyadh ceremony on Dec. 17, said Calvo.

Women in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom face many restrictions, including not being allowed to travel or obtain identity documents without the permission of their male guardian.

They are also banned from driving, and should cover from head to toe when in public.

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