Saudi Women Risk All for Small Rights


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After centuries of methodical Islamic gender apartheid that holds Saudi women in virtual enforced slavery as possessions of men, slight signs of rebellion are being seen, as many women are defying the fatwa against women drivers.

In order to understand why recent driving protests are an enormous step forward for Saudi women, one must comprehend the brutal world in which Saudi women are forced to live.

According to Freedom House, Saudi women lack all equality, are denied benefits of citizenship, their employment is limited, and laws are designed to discriminate against women. This is because a female is not considered a full person. Thus, a woman can be arrested for eating in public without a male family member, an act considered immoral and punishable in court. If a woman marries a non-Saudi, her children are considered foreigners. In order for Saudi women to receive identity cards, virtue, through state officials, must be proven in court.

According to the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, Saudi women are forbidden from studying biology and chemistry, and girls are banned from playing sports in school, something the CDHR reports is creating serious health problems in women. Saudi women are also forbidden from studying abroad.

Amnesty International reports that Saudi laws are purposely intended to discriminate against women for the purpose of subjugation. Conspicuously, for example, unmarried women are forbidden from establishing a business without a male benefactor. Also, women are prohibited from riding in the front of public buses, “even when the buses are empty.”

Women in this brutal regime are forced into arranged marriages—not by mothers, but male family members who have absolute authority over Saudi women’s lives. Women rarely initiate lawsuits, in part because of strict laws stipulating that two male family members must speak on behalf of women as witnesses. Even then, women are at the mercy of men, who provide help depending on whether or not the case brings shame to the family.

While Saudi women, like many women in Muslim countries, live under harsh laws constraining them as prisoners in their very homes, Saudi Arabia’s laws are more brutal than those of other Arab countries. Saudi laws forbid women to go out in public unaccompanied by male family escorts. Any woman caught in public without a male family member is automatically accused of prostitution under Saudi law and must be imprisoned. As punishment for such “crimes,” Saudi woman are made to endure physical as well as mental torture before being sentenced to severe lashings or death.

Furthermore, it is illegal for Saudi women to remove the veil in public, or even to appear in public without being accompanied by male relatives. Violations of such strictures can invite rape. When rape occurs, only the female victim bears the sin and shame of the act: rape is declared a crime of the woman. Under Saudi laws, women must have four witnesses to the rape or the court throws the case out.  And women’s rights in court are only worth half that of a man. If the shame of rape is exacerbated, it is the victim who may incur the extreme penalty of execution.

Freedom House also reported on the 2002 tragedy involving the Saudi veiling laws and a deadly girls’ school fire. Rescue attempts were prevented because many girls fleeing the blaze were not wearing their head scarves. Thus, firefighters “intentionally obstructed the efforts to evacuate the girls. This resulted in the increased number of casualties.”

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  • PhillipGaley

    We need to declare an acceptable year, do some conquering, there, and set the captives free, . . . the Saudi men would scream bloody murder, of course, and I would say, yeah, okay, fine, you're dead.

    With so very many of those backward types in positions of control—small and great—I just don't see how the world can move into the great things which are envisioned and to some extent, even now are on the threshold of achievement.

    My arguments adjudge them to have had full opportunity to have joined in the race to have shared the glory in lifting the load, but—they don't want to do that—they wish to have their own color TV's, sure, but more, to look back a thousand years to Mecca, in the face of which, stronger minds need to make the decision for them, fork-lift their ragged and raspy caravans off, over the side of the road, and welcoming those who wish to go with, the while, . . .

    I have been challenged as to how and in what way the immigrants to the Americas did not steal land from the more indigenous inhabitants. But, the peoples of the earth are in competition for decency in the many things which are commonly intended in reference to civil or civilized life, civilization, and so forth.

    And, not only from my time spent in music ministry among the Native Church, but long before, in the many of their children whom they brought to and left at the 'white' man's stoop that, their young also, might be partakers of the benefits which they sensed, to be there and which were to be for all—and in such numbers that, Indian schools were begun—in such sacrifice, that people showed then that, they agreed with the arguments which more lately, I now espouse—of things which C. Columbus, or Vaso de Gama, for but two isolated and lonely individuals, would not find dark and difficult to discern for our day, . . . and to begin, most surely, those young who died in that deadly girls' school fire, would have wished the parents of their community to have been very much otherwise that, today, they might still be living, growing, and doing, . . .

  • PhillipGaley

    . . . . and the proper end to all remnants of that G0D damned reprehensible state institutionalized sensuality, . . .

  • GinsterC

    What horrible treatment of ladies. I'm surprised a lot of them in their hoplessness don't commit suicide en masse.

  • aspacia

    True, just remember suffragettes, and birth control advocates were imprisoned in the West during the 1800's. Time for a change.

  • UCSPanther

    The men are just as much slaves here as well, being locked into a society where free thought is punished brutally and forced to follow an ideology that should have faded into the past with medieval barbarity.

    One can judge how much progress a society has made by how it treats its women, and most Arab societies have a lot of catching up to do.

    • tanstaafl

      About 1400 years of catching up………

  • Dalia Fatani

    THIS ARTICLE IS SO UNTRUE!!!!!

    Kindly assess the facts before portraying us as a herd in such absurdity!

    We, the saudi women have the right to do everything we want to do!
    We do have sports in schools and we have our own luxurious fabulous gyms all over the country!
    We also have our ID's and we can be anywhere we want to be!
    We go to restaurants with and with out the company of either men or women!
    We also travel the world when we want to!
    We study both in Saudi and abroad, we are doctors and specialists in all fields!
    We are looked at as treasures not prostitutes!!
    We do not have to be veiled, it is a choice according to the tribal upbringing "not religion"!

    What you are talking about has nothing to do with neither religion nor the law, these issues comes from certain groups of people whom are ignorant and suffer from the lack of intellect and in some cases literacy, in some cases these unfortunate people are taking jobs that affect people around them, but this is NOT the norm!

    What you are portraying is a specific part of the community that could very much equal to a part of yours in which a foreigner did not happen to write about in her or his personal views with out actually living in that "foreign" environment. And when I say "living" I mean living for more than a year to get the hang of things, not just a visit!

    It would be much wiser if you would have had a proper macro argument rather than a micro one, yours is filled with facts that portray specific cultural identities, not the whole country!

  • MAS

    Only some of what is stated in this report is somewhat true .. most of this is gross exaggeration and complete misstatement of actual facts … i should know i am Saudi and i am a woman. I am NOT happy with many things .. but this article is absurd!

    • http://aprilbaby.typepad.com/a_california_life/ LA_WriterChick

      If you are truly a Saudi woman, then why don't you give specific information about what you feel is incorrectly stated?