Female Oppression in Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing economies of the Arabian Peninsula, depending on its oil industry. It has officially joined the World Trade Organisation in December 2005 and it provides aid to poorer Islamic countries as well. From this, it surely seems that the people of Saudi Arabia are doing well as a whole economically. However, Western pressures on the monarchy’s human rights violations have indicated that equality is still an ideal that has not been achieved in the kingdom. In particular, the violations of the women’s rights have been under close international scrutiny.
One of the most significant facts about Saudi Arabian women is that they are not allowed to vote as can be seen during the 2005 elections, even though voting is largely only at a municipal level. The fact that women are not allowed to vote to decide for themselves the officials they want to represent them and have a stake in national affairs is representative of the role of women in Saudi Arabia today.
In the legal system, just like in Pakistan, women are not considered to be legitimate witnesses. They are considered to be emotional, intellectually weak and forgetful, thus unable to provide accurate testimonies. This makes Saudi Arabian women even more vulnerable to sexual assaults such as rape.
Although half of university students in Saudi Arabia are women, showing a certain amount of freedom in terms of education, the education provided is largely education concerning Islam which further indoctrinates the women. Also, although education is important and widespread, this does not directly translate to women contributing to the economy. Research has shown that women in Saudi Arabia make up only 5% of the workforce, the lowest in the world.
The curtailing of the women’s personal freedom can be seen from limiting her access to a public life, as well as her full rights in the legal system, to even the most trivial customs. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive. What many people are already familiar with is the fact that Saudi Arabian women are required to wear the abaya, the black loose outfit that is reserved for Arab women so as to prevent men from viewing them as sex symbols.
The abaya covers a woman’s entire body except for her eyes, hands and feet. This practice is said help women such that they will be evaluated by their intellect and skills rather than looks and sexuality. However, this practice is counterproductive as the forbidden fruit syndrome occurs. The more the women are required to cover their bodies, the more men will desire to look at them. Even a glimpse at women’s ankles could be exotic for the men.
Until recently, it has been forbidden for women in enter hotels alone without a male guardian. They were also unable to rent an apartment on their own accord.
However, currents of change are starting to appear as the system goes through reforms. King Abdullah has said that he does not oppose the idea of women driving and has also shown by example that he believes in the capabilities of women by traveling with female delegates and academics. However, he thinks that it would take a while for society to accept such modern notions.
We hope that Saudi Arabia as a fast growing economy can match up to its development by championing women’s rights as well, creating a more balanced society that eradicates age-old traditions that subordinate women.