Calls to end Saudi male guardianship sweeping social media

The Jerusalem Post
Wed, 07 Sep 2016

Saudi women are not allowed to travel, marry, study, or even have surgery without permission from their guardians.

Reem, a 37-year-old Saudi nurse, who asked that her last name be withheld, recalled when her family arranged her marriage. After graduating from nursing school, she worked for 10 years until her cousin approached her father asking for her hand in marriage.

“All of a sudden my father said to me, this is my nephew and you will marry him,” Reem said. “We were complete opposites in character and I didn’t like him, he wasn’t handsome. So, I refused, I cried, I did everything a Saudi girl can do, but sadly, they forced me.”

“It broke my soul,” she added. After a year of being engaged, Reem broke it off. Her parents then forced her to marry a man, who, according to Reem, was a drug addict; so she divorced him.

“Now, I am divorced with one son. I am a nurse, but I stay with my family. I have a good salary, but they refuse to let me live independently. I am 37 years old and I still live with my parents,” Reem said.

Stories like these are not uncommon in Saudi Arabia, a conservative, Muslim country, where male guardianship laws still reign. These laws require Saudi women, regardless of age, to have a male guardian, usually a husband or a father, who makes all legal decisions for them.

The hashtag, #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, has taken the Twitter social networking world by storm, calling for an end to these oppressive laws.

“Basically, from when they are born to when they die, Saudi women require male guardians, who are given legal control over their lives,” Kristine Beckerle, a Human Rights Watch researcher recently reported. According to Beckerle, the New York-based human rights organization "has concluded that male guardianship is the most significant impediment to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia today.”

Saudi women are not allowed to travel, marry, study, or even have surgery without permission from their guardians. “If you go out against your guardian’s will, he can go to the police and file a complaint that you are a fugitive and the police will come after you and take you home,” Reem added.

There is a Twitter hashtag in Arabic (#سعوديات_نطالب_باسقاط_الولاية51), which updates the number of days the hashtag has been circulating. It has reached 51.

“It's a unified effort by Saudi Women in attempt to voice their struggle in the only legal way that they can in Saudi Arabia,” Isaac Cohen, Director of the S.A.F.E. Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Saudi women fight male guardianship, told The Media Line.

Women have chosen the social media platform to raise awareness because protest rallies are illegal and can even carry prison sentences in Saudi Arabia. In the past, Saudi women have feared publicizing their beliefs; however, women have now become more willing to take a stand in the anti-guardianship campaign, according to Beckerle.

These women have gone so far as to record videos of themselves to post on social media, articulating the horrors of the repressive laws. Aside from the hashtags, there have been many other instances of solidarity amongst Saudi women.

Some of which include the distribution of “I am my own guardian” bracelets and stickers; a petition to the king, which gathered over 3,000 signatures in 24 hours; and a wall in Riyadh with the hashtag written in graffiti.

“I am flabbergasted. The media is not free and Saudi women themselves face many levels of difficulty. To see women take up the call and demand their rights has been incredible,” Beckerle said.

There have been movements in the past to change laws in Saudi Arabia. In October 2013, there was a campaign to allow women the right to drive; however, that was unsuccessful.

However, activists hope that this campaign may be different. Because the guardianship laws affect a number of different aspects of women’s lives, Beckerle believes that this gives the government room to initiate changes. Reem said that while she believes the government is gradually making necessary changes, she does not believe that there will ever be complete elimination of male guardianship laws.

Saudi Religious Police Detained 5 Women for Driving, Group Reports

The New York Times
Published: June 29, 2011

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The religious police in Saudi Arabia arrested five women on Tuesday for driving in defiance of a ban on women getting behind the wheel in the conservative kingdom, according to activists and local media reports.

Saudi Women for Driving, an informal coalition of leading Saudi women’s rights activists, bloggers and academics, said in a statement that the women were arrested in Jidda, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city.

“If Saudi police think arresting women drivers is going to stop what has already become the largest women’s rights movement in Saudi history, they are sorely mistaken,” the coalition said in a statement released by Change.org, a Web site where members can create and promote online petitions for social change. “On the contrary, these arrests will encourage more women to get behind the wheel in direct defiance of this ridiculous abuse of our most basic human rights.”

The coalition said that the religious police arrested four of the women when they were driving in the Dorat al Arous neighborhood in Jidda, a port city along the Red Sea. The four, ages 21 and 22 and riding in one car, were taken to a police station, where they signed a pledge not to drive again, the group’s report said. A fifth woman was arrested later Tuesday night while driving in the neighborhood of Suleimaniyah.

Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi blogger and a member in the coalition, said that all the women have been released. “This will not scare us,” she said.

Sabq, a Saudi news Web site, reported one of the women was arrested after residents told the police about an unveiled woman driving a car. The Web site said that the woman was driving with her brother and that they were both taken into custody.

On June 17, a group of Saudi women launched a nationwide right-to-drive campaign, in which 42 women took to the road. They said their campaign was inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, where street protests toppled the authoritarian governments of Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of the United States and female leaders in Europe announced support for the right-to-drive campaign.

The campaign came a month after Manal Al-Sharif, a Saudi mother, was arrested for driving her car in late May.

The arrests Tuesday were the first to be reported in the oil-rich kingdom since the campaign began.

Saudi Arabian law does not forbid women from driving, but a religious fatwa dictates that Saudi women must be driven by male drivers or male family members.

Women in the kingdom live under many restrictions. They must also have written permission from a male guardian — a father, son, husband or brother — to leave the country, work or undergo a medical operation.


The First Saudi Domestic Violence Awareness Forum in London

Published: Jun 1, 2010

LONDON: With the support of Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al-Saud, Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, the First Saudi Domestic Violence Awareness Forum was recently held at the King Fahd Academy in London.

The two-day event, which ended on Sunday, was headed by Dr. Hanan Sultan, Obstetrics and Gynecology consultant, and attracted more than 300 Saudi males and females in the UK. It also included six sessions discussing various medical, psychological, educational, legal and media point of views on family abuse cases.

Awad Al-Zaidi, head of Ebdaat Altaleem company and director of its two schools in Al-Riyadh and Al-Taif, spoke on behalf of the education sector when he said how, “Unfortunately our curriculum lacks stories about the skills of communication in the family. We need to implement that and teach our children how to be more confident.

“It is not always about beating those who beat you as the old Arabic proverb says; we need to be more understanding and look at the bigger picture to help these children be their best, before it is too late.”

Supportive organizations such as schools can therefore play a valuable role in preventing abuse. Another example is the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the UK, which was represented by Maha Al-Yousif, head of Saudi Citizens Affairs. She encouraged everyone to seek the help of the embassy and stated that their lines are open 24 hours a day. She also stressed the importance they placed on protecting the privacy of the caller.

“We should give our best because we are not here only as ambassadors of our tribes or cities but the whole country,” she said.

The law had its share of the event too, especially when one of the guests raised a question on an incident she came across when a father had abused his child in Saudi Arabia. The speaker said that if a child does not need to stay for more than 21 days at the hospital for recovery, then he or she is returned home to the abusive father. “Is that really fair, or a solution?” she asked.

Mohammed Shabaan, a lawyer at the Supreme Court in England and Wales; Nassir Al-Doussari, a law consultant and specialist in people with special needs; and Ahmed Al-Dibyan, general director at the Islamic Cultural Center in London, spoke about UK law on the subject. They described the absence of Islamic courts that deal with personal cases. They also outlined the role of the Islamic Cultural Center in London in helping Muslim couples and families overcome these difficulties.

Vas Gopinathan, detective chief inspector at the Metropolitan Police, who represented the Borough of Ealing, was among the speakers. He attended the event because, as he described it, he wanted the word to spread from 10 people to a thousand. “If you do not want to go to the police and report it, don’t ignore it. Take some action or things will get worse. There are a lot of organizations that could help,” he said.

Even for those who do not feel comfortable reporting to English authorities, Mohammed Balela, director at Al-Aman Family Safety Project, said that his project — one among several — was established in London in 2000 to deal specifically with the concerns of Arabic families.

The day ended with the last session, which included the participation of the media via three members of the Saudi Journalists Club in the UK, namely the columnist and president of the club Prince Bader bin Saud bin Mohammad, Abdullah Al-Maghlouth, columnist in Al-Watan, and Nahid Bashatah, columnist and specialist in clinical psychology.

The team shared their views, beginning with the role of the media, whether the media should expose these cases and the full names of the people committing it or not, and moving on to the need for training and for journalists specialized in covering cases of family abuse, “Especially because only 2.5 percent of Saudi Arabian families are aware of the abuse cases in the country,” said Al-Maghlouth.

The lectures were held on Saturday and three workshops were held on the Sunday. Roqaya Fitaihi, social researcher, headed the first workshop, which was called ‘Positive strategies to raise your children.’ Consultant in Leadership and Organizational Development Ghada Angawi, gave the second workshop titled, ‘Dealing with negative emotions in the family.’ The third and final workshop was held by Bashatah, and was about ‘Positive communication in the family’. 


Saudi judge says OK to slap wife

(AFP) – May 10, 2009

RIYADH (AFP) — A Saudi judge has told a seminar on domestic violence that it is okay for a man to slap his wife for lavish spending, a local newspaper reported on Sunday.

Jeddah judge Hamad al-Razine gave the example of overspending to buy a high-end abaya, the head-to toe black shroud Saudi women have to wear in public, as justifying a smack for one's wife, Arab News said.

"If a person gives 1,200 riyals (320 dollars) to his wife and she spends 900 riyals (240 dollars) to purchase an abaya from a brand shop, and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment," he said.

The judge's remarks sparked an outcry at the seminar on the role of judicial and security officials in preventing domestic violence, the paper reported.

The seminar was attended by officials as well as activists on domestic violence, including representatives of the National Family Safety Programme.

Razine acknowledged the depth of the problem of domestic violence, until recently not acknowledged as a serious issue in the ultra-conservative Muslim country, where family problems traditionally remained behind closed doors.

Saudi women have in the past few years become more vocal about the problem of husbands beating wives and fathers mistreating children.

But Razine said some of the blame must be shouldered by wives for their behaviour. "Nobody puts even a fraction of the blame on them," he said, according to the report.

Saudis Earn Low Rank in Women's Rights

May 21, 2005

Associated Press

NEW YORK - Saudi Arabia ranked last in a study of women's rights in Middle Eastern and North African countries and was the only one of 16 nations surveyed that had no constitutional guarantees of equal protection for females, according to a report released Saturday.

Despite gains in educational and employment opportunities and the recent decision by Kuwait's parliament to grant women the right to vote, there was a lack of legal protections for women in all 16 nations and one territory studied, said Freedom House, the nonpartisan, Washington-based organization that released the report at the World Economic Forum.

The countries studied were evaluated on five categories: nondiscrimination and equal access to justice; autonomy, security and freedom of the individual; economic rights and equal opportunity; political rights and civic voice; and social and cultural rights.

Countries were then ranked between 1 and 5 in each category, with Saudi Arabia having the lowest average of 1.26. The average for Tunisia was highest, at 3.24. No country received a ranking higher than 3.6 in any category.

The report was presented at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, where Queen Rania and other women's rights activists called for reform through changes in the Arab media's portrayal of women.


Saudi court sentences rape victim to 90 lashes


Nov. 2, 2006

A Saudi court has sentenced a gang rape victim to 90 lashes of the whip because she was alone in a car with a man to whom she was not married.

The sentence was passed at the end of a trial in which the al- Qateef high criminal court convicted four Saudis convicted of the rape, sentencing them to prison terms and a total of 2,230 lashes.

The four, all married, were sentenced respectively to five years and 1,000 lashes, four years and 800 lashes, four years and 350 lashes, and one year and 80 lashes.

A fifth, married, man who was stated to have filmed the rape on his mobile phone still faces investigation. Two others alleged to have taken part in the rape evaded capture.

Saudi courts take marital status into account in sexual crimes. A male friend of the rape victim was also sentenced to 90 lashes for being alone with her in the car.

The court heard that the victim and her friend were followed by the assailants to their car, kidnapped and taken to a remote farm, where the raping occurred.

The victim was quoted by Okaz newspaper as saying she had expected harsher penalties for the assailants, especially as they had pleaded not guilty.

Her husband and family said that they would appeal to the court Saturday for harsher penalties for a crime which has shocked public opinion in Saudi Arabia and been the subject of months of debate. 


Women doctor shares journey into heart of Islam

August 17, 2008

The Canadian Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dr. Qanta Ahmed's journey into the heart of Islam began as a spur-of-the-moment decision to practise medicine in Saudi Arabia.

Despite misgivings about women - even doctors - being treated as invisible in the country, the 40-year-old assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina says she took a chance and stayed there for two years.

Reflecting on her experiences almost decade later, she sees her memoir, "In the Land of Invisible Women," as part of a needed "jihad of the pen" by articulate, moderate Muslims. Her hope is that a book written by a Muslim who grew up in the West can, in some small way, bridge the divide of understanding between the Middle East and Western culture.

"One of the central errors westerners are constantly assaulted with is the use of this term jihad," she says in an interview at her condominium overlooking Charleston's peaceful Ashley River. "The central jihad for all of us is to constantly improve and be the best we can be and try to adhere to some very pure ideals."

She also hopes it might help dispel what she says is a misconception that Islam advocates violence. (Confused Muslim author protects Islam)

"This is absolutely heinous and false," she says. "Islam values life above anything. We are taught in the Quran that man's right to life exceeds even God's rights on man."

Ahmed's "In the Land of Invisible Women," will be published next month by Sourcebooks Landmark.

"The book is important because in this country, in the sound-bite generation, stereotypes pretty much prevail," said Sourcebooks Inc.'s Tony Viardo. "When Americans in general think of Muslims, really the radical Islam aspect of it comes to mind. Where we think this book is really important is that is humanizes Muslims and builds bridges between the two cultures." (Confused Muslim author protects Islam)

Ahmed, who is of Pakistani descent, was born in Britain and had advanced medical training in the United States.

In Saudi Arabia, she found a land with tremendous wealth, but one where women remain largely invisible, even highly trained female doctors working side-by-side with male colleagues. It is a land where women must, in public, be shrouded in an abbayah, a flowing robe; where women can't drive and must have a male relative or guardian's permission to travel. (Confused Muslim author condemns Islam)

She stayed in Saudi Arabia from 1999 through 2001, leaving in the months after the 2001 terror attacks. She writes of her anger in seeing highly trained physicians laughing and others buying cakes and celebrating the news of 9-11. (Confused Muslim author condemns Islam)

But she also found a connection she had never known to a religion she had practised her entire life after going on the Hajj to the holiest sites of Islam.

There is much confusion about that religion, she says. (Confused Muslim author protects Islam)

In modern Islam, she says, "you see so very few articulate moderate voices coming out. Where are the movies? Where is the music? Where is the poetry? Where are the books to counteract some of this (violent) ideology?"

A decade ago, Ahmed, a pulmonologist and sleep specialist, had to decide about her future when her visa to practice medicine in the United States expired. She wanted to practice in the Middle East because its medicine was more American than in her native Britain. She told a recruiter she would go anywhere but Saudi Arabia. (Yes, the heart of Islam is a terrorist country)

But then came an offer to practise medicine in a modern hospital drawing patients from all of Saudi Arabia. She took it, despite initial misgivings about living in a land of strict religious rules where the death penalty is administered by decapitation.

"'What's a year?"' I remembered thinking to myself, as I had signed the contract recklessly, flicking through pages ignoring bold capitals announcing the death penalty," she writes. "In a thoughtless flourish I found myself now subject to the laws of Saudi Arabia, decapitation included."

Ahmed says it was a paradox to live in a land with such rigid laws but one that was enthralling and spiritual. (Confused Muslim author does not understand that Islam condones violence)

She made the Hajj to Mecca, the journey every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it is obligated to make at least once.

Many make preparations months and even years in advance. Ahmed went almost by chance, deciding only a week before when a colleague convinced her that she might never get another chance.

Approaching the Ka'ba, she felt small among the tens of thousands of pilgrims.

"The next thing you notice is the diversity of race and physical features and age and nationalities and languages, and that's when I immediately felt at home," she says. "If you don't quite fit in with the culture or you don't fit in quite with the family where you come from, you have a place you fit in spiritually."