The Rights of Women in Saudi Arabia - Part 2
“Women’s rights are human rights” is an important message which Plan Canada’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign has adopted - The Rights of Women in Saudi Arabia introduction. The rights of women around the world have an effect on everybody in the world, including males. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2009 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ranked 130th out of 134 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index in 2009 (Hausmann, Tyson, & Zahidi, 2009). In Saudi Arabia, women are often suppressed in society and are noted as having the rights of minors.
Saudi women are subject to unjust laws, sexist family code, and tainted education systems. This systemic inequality towards women must change. Many of the so-called laws in Saudi Arabia are in fact not written laws. Often individual judges use their own discretion when punishing people for their crimes as based upon Sharia. Sharia is defined by Oxford dictionary as “Islamic canonical law based on the teachings of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna), prescribing both religious and secular duties and sometimes retributive penalties for law breaking.
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This can often lead to rulings that follow archaic religious rituals; although it should be noted that Sharia in itself is not sexist, but rather common Saudi Arabian cultural interpretation is sexist. Women are often subject to punishment for acts that are often not thought of as crimes in the Western world. A particularly disturbing case of this was in 2007 when a Saudi court issued a preposterous sentence to a gang-rape victim. The girl had gotten into a car with a boy she knew from her school because he had a picture of her.
His having the picture of her was taboo as she was soon to marry another man. Both the boy and girl who were in the car were kidnapped and all involved were punished. The female victim was sentenced to 90 lashings for having had contact with men who were not relatives of hers. Her sentence was later upped to 200 lashes and six months in jail because her defense lawyer had begged for compassion (Vankin, 2013). Having women who have been raped receiving lashings because they dared enter a car with a man is a despicable reason to punish someone.
At this point in Saudi Arabia there is also a driving ban in effect for women. Though it is not technically illegal, Saudi Arabia refuses to issue licenses to women and by law drivers must have a license (Jabeena, 2012). Though women have protested by driving, the ban remains in place and women do get punished for driving. This is a blatant denial of a path to independence for women. Although laws in Saudi Arabia are not always written laws, harsh punishment (especially towards women) often occurs and is tainted due to the variation of interpretation of the law by judges.
Females in Saudi are also required to have a male guardian at all ages. This male guardian can be a father, husband, brother, and even grandson based on the woman’s specific circumstances. These male guardians may be responsible for giving women permission to marry, divorce, travel, undergo certain surgeries, seek employment, and many other major decisions or matters in the woman’s life (Human Rights Watch, 2008). This treatment seems demeaning and acts as a way to keep women overpowered in the country. There are activists whom are very much against the guardianship custom.
In particular one Saudi widow, Wajeha Al-Huwaider stated that it was absurd because “If I wanted to get married, I would have to get the permission of my son. ” She is 45 and her son is 17. Should a 17 year old boy really not only be able to, rather encouraged or enforced to make a life-altering decision for a 45 year old woman? Though some activists have tried to abolish this way of living, all attempts have failed thus far. The ideas that many Saudi Arabian conservatives hold of how women should be treated and viewed under the law are nothing short of severely outdated.
The necessary male guardian is a tool of mass suppression that provides no benefit to the women of the Kingdom. These ideas tie in closely to the family code that is expected to be upheld in Saudi society. Saudi Arabian views on women’s rights are widely based on traditional culture. Even though forced marriages are now illegal in Saudi Arabia, the marriage contract is strictly between the groom and the bride’s male guardian (Social Institutions & Gender Index, 2011). This implies that even though a woman cannot legally be forced to marry a certain man, the man she marries must have the approval of her male guardian.
Saudi family law also makes it very hard for women to obtain a divorce; they must provide a good circumstance and evidence to support it whereas men are able to obtain a divorce without question (Social Institutions & Gender Index, 2011). This makes it inherently difficult for a woman to leave a relationship, even if it is abusive or otherwise harmful to her. Traditional Saudi Arabian cultural practices remain in practice, despite the fact that they are wildly inappropriate for the times.
Though literacy rates of Saudi Arabian females are seemingly quite advanced at 82. %, which is close to the 90. 8% literacy rate of males (CIA Factbook, 2011), the quality of female education is lower than that of males. Schools, from primary to post-secondary education are segregated by sex. This segregation allows for different curricula to be used and for women to learn about their role as a nurturing mother and wife as dictated by commonly accepted Wahabi beliefs (AlMunajjed, 1997). Having differences in the curricula that are used is an outrageous disadvantage to the women trying to become equal to their male counterparts.
Another hardship that women seeking an education in Saudi Arabia must face is that of transportation. Women are not allowed to drive and living at their university, away from their male guardian is often strongly discouraged by family (Rawaf & Simmons, 1991). This can cause a tremendous barrier between women and higher education. Therefore, although girls are required to complete some level of education and are able to attend post-secondary institutions, they are not receiving the same quality of education as boys and they have limitations in post-secondary as well.
Katy Watson (2012), a reporter for BBC News, found that: Despite the fact that it [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] spends heavily on educating both men and women – 60% of those who graduate from Saudi’s universities are female – only 17% of women are actually in the job market. That compares with 75% of men. There are many reasons why this may be true, but the lack of equal education does not help the situation. Saudi Arabians must modernize their view on women.
The discriminatory laws, chauvinistic familial structure, and corrupt education systems are unacceptable, especially in the world today. By having men and women equals, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will have a significantly improved human rights rating. Steps toward equality within the country would also help Saudi’s relationship with other countries. Thus, the elimination (or near elimination) of sexism towards women in Saudi Arabia would ultimately help with world peace.