Saudi Arabia's women have few rights
“Saudi Arabia is probably the only country in the world where the government is pushing for reforms and the people are pulling back.” – Arab News. Among the many news pieces doing the rounds about atrocities faced by women around the world, one particular piece about a woman in Jeddah being punished with 10 lashes appears to have escaped worldwide attention so far. Her crime was to drive a car, a simple motor vehicle. As per the law, women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia as religious edicts state “limitations on a woman’s freedom of movement is necessary to prevent sins.”
In another incident, a woman by the name of Manal al-Sherif was detained for over 10 days for participating in a video which featured her driving, and calling for a “mass driving protest”. Manal, an IT expert, was released after being forced to sign a pledge where she promised not to speak to reporters about the incident. She was also told to “never drive again”.
With due respect to all religions and their undoubted influence over human beings, the question must be asked by educated, progressive-minded women, “how will driving a car make us less virginal, less pure, and less eligible to live our lives?” It must be pointed out also, with the highest respect once again, that motor vehicles did not exist at the time when these religious edicts were written and promoted. Regardless of which religion is being studied, it is now time, in this age of progress and high thinking, to distinguish between what religion actually says, and how it is being misrepresented by parties who wish to suppress the human rights of women.
Apart from being the only country to have completely banned women from driving, Saudi Arabia is one of many countries where girls as young as 10 are forced into marriage. Even if their husbands are abusive and truly repress them from living their lives, they are not permitted to speak out or even address the issue within their homes. In the rare event that a Saudi woman applies for divorce from her husband, the process could take up to a year to finish, and even then it is not uncommon for the presiding Judge to take the man’s side or to dismiss her grounds for wanting the divorce.
Religion allegedly forbids the mixing of the sexes, which causes a problem if a male and female employee at an office were to be alone together. This is naturally one of many excuses as to why the Saudi job market for women is restrictive and offers little or no opportunity for an ambitious Saudi woman to make her mark in the professional sphere.
From being banned from driving a car, not being allowed to work, allowed access only to religious texts and not mainstream books, and having to restrict their social lives to “women only” gymnasiums, and being forced to cover their bodies from tip to toe to “preserve virtue and protect from harm”, the situation for Saudi women is still repressed despite a handful of movements which are working tirelessly to ensure that certain basic rights are recognized.