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Oppression against Women

The case’s of discrimination on the basis of gender have been a part of almost every society’s history, be it the east or west, history is littered with different cases and experiences of women being discriminated against and treated as an inferior or underprivileged segment of the society. At times discrimination is due to the religious beliefs of a society or country but where ever there is discrimination there also are movements and people who stand up and raise their voices.

Sooner or later the change creeps in and people are given their rights. (Doumato, 1999) This paper is basically about the status of Women in Saudi Arabia and the kind of oppression they are faced with. Women do not enjoy their rights in Saudi Arabia the same way their western counterparts do on the contrary Women in Saudi Arabia enjoy much more respect and Security as compared to the situation in the West.

This paper takes a broad view of the situation faced by Women in relevance to different issues and aspects of their lives. But before embarking on the journey of understanding the lives of Saudi Women and how they are so different from the situation in the west it’s essential to understand the background of the problem, a brief history of Saudi Arabia and the teachings of the religion Islam which is practiced strictly by the majority of the population.

The teachings of Islam are said to be the main driving force behind the situation Women face in Saudi Arabia today according to many but a more sensible view of many is that although Islam has particular teachings about Women rights and Issues but a lot of the teachings have been misinterpreted by the people and that’s the main reason behind the main limitation of Women in the country. It makes more sense because apart from Women issues there are many other teachings of Islam that are misinterpreted and enforced by extremist elements in their domains and the teachings about women can be one of those as well.

(Sifa Mtango,2004) Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia is a basically a monarchy, instead of having a constitution like most countries the kingdom has declared the holy book Quran and Hadith (Prophet’s sayings) as the rule of law in the country. The whole problem arises that the people appointed by the government to interpret these religious books interpret them as per their interests and wishes and that’s the main reason for women facing the kind of oppression and treatment they receive today in Saudi Arabia.

If the teachings of Islam are analyzed the religion has openly stated that women and men are equal in the eyes of god which means equal opportunities for women in education, employment and other such matters. Since the laws of the country are based on religious teachings which are open to interpretation it has provided various elements within the government of the country to impose their own interpretations regarding the Islamic teachings about women. “Still, there is one very important treaty that was ratified by Saudi Arabia in 2000 in this regard, the

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). ” (Mtango, 2004) If the rules and regulations regarding women are closely analyzed one positive factor that emerges is that women are given utmost respect in the country, they are provided with opportunities for education and according to the census done by Saudi authorities 60% females go to college after high school as compared to only 50% males, which once again shows that education of women as per the teachings of Islam is encouraged and promoted in the country.

On the other hand there are also some very controversial laws being imposed in the country in relation to confining women in various ways and the unjust legal and judicial system being operated in the country. (Alsuwaigh, 2005) Although most of these laws make little sense as they are created after faulty interpretation but what little sense that can be made out of them is that they are designed to confine women so as to reduce any chances or opportunities for any immoral or unreligious activities.

That’s the reason provided when females are punished as well when crimes like rape are committed against them in circumstances when the females were in presence of males which is against the Saudi rule of law. Considering Saudi Arab is a conservative monarchy which is based on religious principles the element of change has been almost non-existent but in the last few years some concerns and voices have been raised by women and individuals within the kingdom against the unjust treatment and laws against the rights of women. (Shaheed. F, 1996) Following are some of the major issues women face in Saudi Arabia today:

1. Segregation The Saudi Society is one that is divided on the basis of segregation of sexes, from the age of seven girls and boys are introduced to a separate world, the law has specified separate facilities for both the sexes, be it education, transportation or any other area there is no concept of men and women participating in any thing together. This concept of segregation is entwined in the social fabric of the kingdom, some of the major areas where this segregation comes into maximum effect and is detrimental to the interests of females is: 2. Education:

In areas of education segregation is strictly observed, there are different study areas like schools and universities for both sexes, in case if a certain university is catering to both sexes the classes and other areas are segregated, But the main problem that arises here is that the facilities for women are considered to be below par as compared to males, there is a shortage of highly qualified women to serve as teachers in Women universities which hinders the growth and progress of women, another way to deal with this problem has been the use of technology by using close circuit cameras and male professors using them to address a female class, but they never end up meeting face to face in real life.

On a surprising not since Saudi is a signatory of CEDAW, according to the articles of CEDAW it’s the duty of signatory countries to ensure that the opportunities and access to education and all other facilities for women are equivalent to the facilities being provided to men, which basically means that the female students in Saudi Arabia are entitles to same level of education, same teachers, same curriculum and same quality of life as compared to their male counterparts. (Shaheed. F, 1996) But in Saudi society the female students are directed towards more feminine subjects and their education is more focused towards the holy teachings of Quran and Hadith, the Saudi officials are of the view that there is no need for women to be well versed in other disciplines since men are their to take care of these issues.

On the other hand If we take analysis of the Islamic teachings in this regard we see that these teaching of Islamic are exactly similar to what the articles of CEDAW stipulate, this translates into the fact that its not the teachings of Islam that limit opportunities for women, in fact it’s the Saudi authorities and the people in power that are responsible for such level of discrimination and oppression against women. In short the rule of law being imposed by the Saudi authorities is not only against the teachings of Islam but also the violation of fundamental human rights and the CEDAW articles which have been ratified by the Saudi government. (Sifa Mtango, 2004) Although the conditions of education have improved form what they were in 1960 when education for females was allowed but the pace of development and progress has been very slow and a need for reform of the Saudi system and Islamic interpretations is greatly felt. 3. Employment

Due to the strict policy of sex segregation which is enforced in all aspects of Saudi society the employment opportunities for Saudi females are also very limited, the whole concept behind this law is that women should not be allowed to be in company of men who are other then their husband or immediate relative, in the light of Islam this law is due to the idea that opportunities of interaction between males and females should be limited as it would reduce the chance of any forbidden relations between them, but just like other laws the Saudi authorities have used this teaching to limit opportunities for women like women are not allowed to work in places where they come in contact with other mean, they are not allowed positions of power if the people below her will be men, a female can only occupy a position of power if the people working under her are females. (Nora Alari? Pharaon, 2004) During the tears of 1979-80 the Saudi Sheikh tried to reinforce this view of women being confined to homes by invoking fatwas and using Quranic verses in the fatwa to reinforce the idea that the main task of a woman is to stay at home and should take care of matters relating to home and family. At present women are confined to jobs like teaching, nursing etc which are restricted to contact with other females only.

Within the Saudi government there are about 15000 females working in positions where they do not come in direct contact with men, and incase some form of contact is needed they are only allowed to do so by using the phone or writing to them but a one on one conference or meeting is impossible. (Moghadam, 1993) In short a female does not enjoy the right to make a career choice, does not enjoy the right to having dreams, passions, aspirations, does not have the right to work towards a goal with motivation, due to the highly narrow minded thinking and interpretation of Islamic teachings done by the Saudi authorities, which in fact is even contrary to the teachings of the Prophet and Islam as well in many situations.

Apart from Islam these laws are contrary to and violating the human rights declaration and also the CEDAW articles but sadly the situation remains the same. According to Quran women working at home is preferred but it does not say that women should be forced to remain at home, in fact believers are asked to work in the Islamic teachings and the attitude of Saudi authorities towards this issue seems to have more to do with their own perceptions and thinking rather then that of their religion. The women are being provided education and Saudi Arabia enjoys a very healthy literacy rate for females and they should be allowed to use the education practically in heir lives by working in professions they choose and wish to work in and achieve their goals and aspirations. (Doumato, 1999) 4. Veiling

All females in Saudi Arabia are bound by law to cover themselves with a black material from head to toe also known as abbaya, it is basically a veil intended to over the body of females with the intention of making them less attractive to males thereby putting an automatic check on the occurrence of any forbidden action against the teachings of Islam, since if the males are not aware of how the female looks or how attractive she is then he would refrain from approaching the female and that’s the concept behind this law. But the problem arises that even males are ordered to observe strictly covering the area from the waist to the knees but the rules are not applied in the same manner on the males then they are done on the females, the Saudi authorities also maintain a religious police force called the “Muttawa” who are in charge of enforcing these laws and take action against anyone found violating them.

The concept of veiling has a far more flexible and freedom based approach in other Islamic countries like Pakistan which is also an Islamic republic but there women are free to make a choice whether they would like to observe the idea of a veil or they would like to dress freely in western attire. (Doumato, 1999) The Saudi authorities need to implement the same model being used in Pakistan and adopt a much more flexible and easy approach and let people make a choice for themselves as the religion of Islam does not have any concept of forcing anyone to do anything and it’s a religion that is more based on having faith and following the teachings by free will rather then fear of being punished. 5. Restrictions on Free movement

The freedom of Saudi women while traveling is highly restricted within and outside the kingdom. The females are not allowed to travel anywhere without written permission from their guardian and in the company of a male chaperon, such a law is justified with the rationale that its for the protection of the women themselves as if they are never alone or present somewhere without the knowledge of their guardian they will be provide an opportunity to do any act against the teachings of Islam and indulge in activities which are impossible and otherwise impossible if they are somewhere with the knowledge of their guardian and accompanied by a male chaperon.

The females are also not allowed to drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the justification given for this law is that driving causes the revealing of certain shameful parts of the body and it provides a chance for women to come in contact with other men and it provides an opportunity for actions which are forbidden. I recent years their has been much discussion about this topic and after a number of women raising their voices against this law it is expected the ban on females driving will be lifted some time in the near future. (Doumato, 1999) Again If these laws are closely analyzed the whole idea behind them is to restrict women in all possible ways.

The obvious fact that comes to a persons mind is that Saudi Arab is the signatory of the CEDAW articles but interestingly the Saudi authorities had include done reservation of theirs that if any article of the CEDAW will be in contradiction with their interpretation of Islamic teachings then Saudi Arabia will not be bound to follow that article of CEDAW. 6. Family law and Women In the Saudi society a female is not allowed to enter into marriage on her in fact her father or guardian is suppose to make her enter into a marriage, on a more surprising note a Saudi female is seldom allowed to marry a person who is non-Saudi and never a person who is a non-Muslim, whereas the Saudi men are allowed to marry Christian and Jewish females.

Another interesting fact is that the saying of Holy prophet Muhammad went like “A man can marry up to four wives if he is able to satisfy all their needs and treat them equally”. This particular saying is widely used in Saudi Arabia to marry more then one female but the latter part of the saying that all the wives need to be treated equally is completely ignored and no one is bothered about it. In the Saudi society the idea of divorce is very easy for a man as he can repeat “I divorce you” three times and the marriage gets annulled but if a female wishes to obtain divorce she has to go through a lengthy legal procedure to prove that she has a firm legal reason for seeking divorce, for example some defect in the male, insanity or abandonment form his part etc.

Even if the female takes this course of action it does not guarantee that she will be able to successfully obtain divorce from her husband. (Nora Alari? Pharaon, 2004) Once again these laws stand in clear violation of CEDAW, human rights declaration and any other concept of non-discrimination. In all ten above mentioned laws the males were given a clear sense of benefit and favors as compared to the females. In cases of rape it is required for a female to present a witness to prove her case which is highly impossible to do in most cases, even in court two females guaranteeing any notion or supporting any case are equivalent to one male giving his statement against their word.

The whole system is highly flawed and this brings a recent example in mind when a 19 year old female was raped by 7 men but when the judgment of the court was given along with the men the female was also sentenced to 90 lashes for being in presence of a stranger against the law, when the decision caused an uproar and the female protested by filing an appeal her sentence was increased to 180 lashes and 6 months in prison. Since the laws of the land are based on interpretation of holy Quran and hadith this leaves a lot of margin for judges to give judgments as they see fit making it a matter of personal beliefs and perceptions instead of abiding by the rules and laws and making decisions. The least that can be done is formation of a religious council to properly interpret and pen down all the teachings and laws mentioned din the holy quran and then the king passing an order making all judges strictly abide by the rules mentioned in the book of law.

This will definitely eliminate the problem of different people getting different punishments for similar crimes just because the judges making the decisions had varying perceptions and beliefs. (Mtango, 2004) Conclusion Since Saudi Arabia is a monarchy the element of Social correction and change based on right and wrong has been very slow and unfair, the laws and rules are all being justified by the use of Islamic teachings and Quran which is just a way to support personal views and beliefs by using a combination of misinterpretation and quotation of verses of holy quran completely out of context to support the rules that are being forcefully implemented and forced on the general population.

The Saudi women are being made victim of male chauvinism and there is little that is being done to stop the systematic crushing and wasting of the talents, abilities, dreams, capabilities, aspirations and passions of the Saudi Females and their only crime is that they were born in a conservative society like that of Saudi Arabia instead of a more liberal one like Pakistan, Lebanon or even the west. The rules and articles that are so frequently flaunted and mentioned at very major conference or leaders speeches about ending discrimination and promoting equality are very easily being crushed and made fun of by a country that is even a signatory to such an agreement but does not seem to adhere to it simply by using religion as a shield.

If that justification of religious teachings is debated even that wont is enough for the Saudis to justify the treatment of their women and the laws that are subjected to. It’s about time that voices are raised from within and outside the kingdom against this injustice and people in power realize that this system of oppression can not thrive any longer. References Alsuwaigh, “Women in transition, case of Saudi Arabia”, Journal of Comparative family studies, 2005, Accessed March 22, 2009 Doumato, “Women and work in Saudi Arabia: How flexible are Islamic margins? ”, The Middle East Journal, October 1, 1999, Accessed March 21, 2009 Moghadam, V. M. (1993).

Modernizing women: Gender and social change in the Middle East. London: Lynne Rienner, Accessed March 22, 2009 Nora Alari? Pharaon, “Saudi Women and the Muslim State in the Twenty-First Century”, Sex Roles, Vol. 51, Nos. 5/6, September 2004, Accessed March 21, 2009 Shaheed, F. (1996). Networking for change: The role of women’s groups in initiating dialogue on women’s issues. In M. Afkhami (Ed. ), Faith and freedom: Women’s human rights in the Muslim world (pp. 78–103). London: I. B. Tauris, Accessed March 21, 2009 Sifa Mtango, “A State of Oppression, Women rights in Saudi Arabia”, Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law I: 49-67, 2004, Accessed March 22, 2009

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