Friday, September 23, 2011
Women in Saudi Arabia
For my second blog post, I’d like to discuss the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The plight of Saudi women, like those of other many other Muslim and Arab women in the Middle East and North Africa, has been a topic which I have always found to be both perplexing and horrifying. According to Wikipedia, “all women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian. Women cannot vote or be elected to high political positions. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The World Economic Forum 2009 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries for gender parity.”
Amnesty International’s human rights report for 2011 states that “Women continued to face discrimination in law and in practice and to be subjected to domestic and other violence. The law does not give women equal status with men, and rules on male guardianship subordinate women to men in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody and freedom of movement. This leaves women vulnerable to violence within the home, which may be committed by men with impunity.” Human Rights Watch stated, in its 2011 report that “Saudi Arabia strictly enforces gender segregation throughout the kingdom, including in work places, impeding women's full participation in public life…Women's unemployment rate is four times that of men…Women cannot work as judges or prosecutors. Promises by the Justice Ministry in February to draft a law allowing women lawyers to practice in court remained unmet.”
Even when compared to other repressive societies in the region and in the world, the daily indignities endured by Saudi women are shocking and an affront to our basic notions of human rights. The fact that such oppression is fundamentally unjust and should be abolished is not a controversial issue in most of the world. What is more controversial is the question of what we, on the outside, can do to help. We should also consider whether the majority of Saudi women desire the same freedoms women in many other countries enjoy.
One Saudi female journalist writes, “Non-Saudis presume to know what’s best for Saudis, like Saudis should modernize and join the 21th century or that Saudi women need to be free of the veil and abaya (long black cloak required of all women in Saudi Arabia) and be able to drive. And by freeing Saudi women, the West really means they want us to be just like them, running around in short skirts, nightclubbing and abandoning our religion and culture.” While it is true that we should take into account the cultural differences among different cultures, I think most will agree that there are certain fundamental rights, such as voting, driving, free movement and freedom of expression, that are universal and should be adopted in every society. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if any fundamental changes will be occurring anytime soon, given the views prevailing among Saudi men and women.
UPDATE: Good news!
"Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, considered a reformer by the standards of his own ultraconservative kingdom, decreed on Sunday that women will for the first time have the right to vote and run in local elections due in 2015."