Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Three Cheers for that Great Bastion of Democracy

The New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch issued a scathing report last month about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. The New York-based group titled the report Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia, and based it on more than 100 interviews with Saudi women. The report is scary as hell and paints a picture of an Orwellian society where all women are forced to live their day-to-day lives in a rigid, childhood-like state. As the report noted, "The authorities essentially treat adult women like legal minors who are not entitled to authority over their lives and well-being." Highlights of the report include:

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Saudi women are forced by law to obtain permission from male relatives to marry, work, travel, study or receive health care.

Saudi mothers cannot carry out even the simplest tasks to assist their children -- enrolling them in school, obtaining their records, traveling with them -- without the written permission of the father.

There is still widespread discrimination against women in the labor force and Saudi Arabia's draconian laws are often used to prevent women from going to the ballot box come election time.

The report observes: "The government has done little to end these discriminatory practices and plays a central role in enforcing them. In doing so, the Saudi government chooses to ignore not only international law but even elements of the Islamic legal tradition that support equality between men and women. The religious establishment has consistently paralyzed any efforts to advance women’s rights by applying only the most restrictive provisions of Islamic law while disregarding more progressive interpretations and the evolving needs of a modern society."

A member of the Saudi Shura Council pretty much summed up the view from on high when he said, "We have to understand that the basic duty of women is at home and bringing up children."

Saudi officials insist they have made great progress in improving the status of women. In sharp contrast to the official statements, though, is the harsh reality of the day-to-day treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. And it isn't just women who suffer from the dominant, medieval mindset. Recently, Saudi university professor Muhammad Ali Abu Raziza was sentenced to 150 lashes and eight months in jail after he was caught by the "religious police" having coffee with "a woman to whom he was not related."

For those of you who are interested in the Human Rights Watch report, it can be found here on the Human Rights Watch Website.

No comments: