Monday 5 September 2016

Saudi Arabia Is the Most Gender-Segregated Nation in the World

Saudi women stand on the opposite side of the hallway from men at the American Express World Luxury Expo in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 30, 2016. An argument that much of what Saudis practiced as religion was in fact Arabian cultural practices that had been mixed up with Islam has drawn a sharp backlash. (Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times)
Saudi blogger Eman al-Nafjan, complaining about the devastating effects of the male guardianship system, poses the dilemma of a friend being abused by her father. "If I report the situation to the police and they take it seriously enough to go to my friend's house, her father—as her legal guardian—could simply dismiss them at the door. Even if my friend gathers the courage to go to the police station herself, she is more likely to be sent to prison than her father is. Her charge would be disobeying her father."
The real problem, explained Saudi journalist Ebtihal Mubarak, is the tremendous authority this system gives to the male figure. "It's not that Saudi men hate women, but having so much power can bring out the monster in men."
"Some women are lucky and their guardians allow them the freedom to travel, to get an education, to work, or to marry the person they choose, but many Saudi women are not that lucky," wrote blogger Suzie Khalil. "This guardianship system basically means that Saudi women are totally powerless over their own lives and destinies unless their male guardian allows them that power."
Why Can't Women Drive?
Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. There is no specific law prohibiting women from driving, but the Interior Ministry and the police enforce a ban. The only places where women can get away with driving are in rural areas, in gated communities, and inside the compounds of the oil company Aramco.
One reason used to justify the ban is personal safety, implying that women are safer with men behind the wheel. Others insist that the ban protects women from being attacked if they are out alone, and women do indeed worry that when they finally start driving, they might be attacked by fanatics who think women shouldn't drive. A rather humorous excuse to keep women from driving came from a sheikh who issued a fatwa in 2013 saying that women can't drive because driving would harm their ovaries and reproductive systems.
"I find these excuses insulting and condescending," says Suzie Khalil, an American married to a Saudi. "Saudi Arabia ranks among the world's worst countries for traffic fatalities. That's what happens when only men are allowed to drive. Despite the fact that I have driven safely in the United States since I was fifteen (that's almost forty years!), I am not allowed behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia simply because I don't have a penis."
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