The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Treatment of Women 

I get asked lots of questions about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. It could take from now until next month to answer this fully. I'll try to be brief.

This story has been appearing in the press recently

Beaten Saudi woman speaks out

For me, the real tragedy of this story was not the actual beating, although that was horrific in itself. It was that it took a high-profile personality to bring it out into public. It is the very small tip of a very deep iceberg.

Men beating women is not, sadly, an unusual story. However in Saudi Arabia it is an untold story, hidden behind the high walls and barred windows of our houses. Nobody knows the scale because public indifference and the victim's fear prevent these stories coming out. Our towns and cities are home to thousands, tens of thousands, who knows, of unheard screams.

Then we have the treatment of the Indonesian maids. Usually the perpetrators of this routine violence are Saudi women themselves, possibly venting their frustrations and suppressed anger, and demonstrating to the next generation of little Saudis how to treat women, how to treat our guest workers.

Violence apart, consider the lot of the average Saudi woman.

As a young girl, she can play out in the street with the young boys.

When puberty comes, she must retire inside, only appearing in public in abaya and veil.

She has no opportunity to seek her own marriage partner. She is dependent upon her family to find one, and one who can afford the dowry. She can say "no", but not too often, otherwise the introductions will stop.

Her husband can divorce her with relative ease.

Her husband can marry up to 3 other wives. Yes, in material terms, he must treat them equally. But his affection will obviously not be split 4 ways.

If she is caught herself in adultery, she will be stoned to death. Yes, it happens, it's just not reported these days.

She has equality of education. Like men, she can go to university. However her career choice is limited.

She can work in the Ladies' branch of a bank. She can teach female pupils. That's about it. She can't even, at the moment, be a flight attendant on Saudi Aiirlines. If she's very lucky, she can work in the "ladies only" floor of the Kingdom Shopping Center in Riyadh. But she can't work on the perfume counter of a regular shop, or in a lingerie shop; you'll find Lebanese men doing that.

She may well be wealthy in her own right, and own a business. However she can't manage it, if that would bring her into contact with men.

She can't drive. She can of course walk to the shops. Try that wearing black artificial fiber head-to-toe, in temperatures up to 50 celsius. (We men, of course, wear cool white cotton). Drivers are within the reach of many family incomes; but leave them at the door of the shopping center, otherwise you'll both be arrested.

She'll find it difficult to go out "with the girls". Many restaurants will not allow a group of unaccompanied women in. Same problem by herself. The safest way to get into the "Family" section of a restaurant, is with husband and / or children.

She can of course entertain her lady friends at home. That assumes her husband allows it. Many Saudi homes have bars on the windows, and the women are locked in during the day.

At home, she can do whatever she wants to amuse herself. However, there are clearly few opportunities to fulfil herself. Typically, therefore, she will start a family early. We have one of the highest birth-rates in the world.

If she has domestic problems, there is no network of support groups. Her family may help, it depends. Having got her married with some difficulty, they may be unwilling to take her back again.

The story of women in Saudi Arabia is one of unending tragedy. They are our mothers, our wives, our daughters, yet on the whole we treat them like our cattle. It's a story that needs to change.

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