Saudi Arabia’s Appalling Treatment of Women
Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative interpretation of Sharia has resulted in appalling restrictions on the rights of its citizens. Few groups are as severely restricted in this country as its women. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the things that women are not allowed to do in Saudi Arabia.
It is important to note that Saudi Arabia has repeatedly made claims that it is extending womens’ rights. Increasing Western pressure due to media attention on cases such as a group of women protesting for their right to drive by themselves has revealed, however, that Saudi Arabia is a country where women cannot do many things that are guaranteed in many other parts of the world. Women cannot open a bank account by themselves or vote, for example.
One of the main reasons why women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are in such a terrible state is an archaic guardianship system that requires women to have a male guardian to carry out many activities. A male chaperone, or a mahram, is necessary whenever a woman wants to leave the house. Women are not allowed to leave the house without one. Usually a male relative, these chaperones are required for something as simple as a trip to the doctor or to the market. Any move to remove the guardianship system is likely to be blocked by senior religious clerics in the Saudi government.
It is actually a myth that women are forbidden from driving by the law; there is no law explicitly banning women from driving. However, Saudi clerics have spoken against it and it is forbidden by many people’s religious beliefs. The Women2Drive campaign, organized relatively recently, was not very successful. The general view in Saudi Arabia is that women shouldn’t drive, unless it is an emergency.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot vote (unless one counts the tiny Vatican State, with a total population of 32 women currently.) This means that, in Saudi Arabia, millions of people, roughly half of its citizens, are not allowed any say in the government. Some small steps have been taken to allow women to vote in local elections. However, this token gesture is unlikely to have an important effect on the ultraconservative state.
Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are severely restricted. Women cannot participate in a wide variety of activities, including interacting with men, entering a cemetery, wearing make-up, or compete in sports. The fact is that the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia is a disservice to all Muslims around the world. Every time Muslims make the point that Islam has a progressive attitude towards women and that Muslim women are strong and educated, critics can simply point to Saudi Arabia and to its barbaric stance on women’s rights without needing to make any other rebuttal.