In this twenty-first century where civilization has made a great deal of progress and change worldwide, one may think that most people would have gained their basic human rights that enable them to live as full functioning and respected citizens. The sad thing about this assumption is that it is not always true, at least not where I come from, Saudi Arabia.
As a Saudi woman, I am still struggling to obtain my basic human rights. Saudi women undergo sexual discrimination that restricts their presence in the society as productive citizens. Unlike men, who are privileged with opportunities in education, jobs, governmental institutions, and all aspects of life, women have come second and are only allowed to use the limited resources offered to them.
The government has given the Wahhabi religious extremists control over the whole country. Those religious people, or as we call them “The Matawa”, focus most of their efforts on policing women and punishing them if they don’t listen to their orders. The Matawa follow women in markets, streets, outside schools, public libraries, parks, restaurants, hospitals, and in any place they can gain access.
They stop and interrogate couples walking hand in hand and question whether they are a husband and wife. They force women to dress in dark Abyas that cover them from head to toe as the Wahhabi doctrine teaches.
Moreover, the Wahabi Matawa harass and sometimes beat any woman who is not dressed as they see appropriate. Thus, they force their rstanding of religion on all people even though the Saudi people come from different religious backgrounds and creeds.
As women, we cannot travel without a male guardian or the written approval of a male guardian. We also cannot have ID cards or apply to university without the same approval. The law prohibits us from driving, free market trade, pursuing job opportunities (other than the acceptable medical, educational, and banking areas). We are not allowed to apply to colleges that are restricted to only men. We are even forbidden from getting married without the approval of a male guardian.
This treatment, which is directed by the Wahhabi Mutwa with the approval of the government, restricts us and makes us feel like minors, since we cannot do anything without the approval of a male in the family. It is restricting our lives in ways that make us dependent on men and we are consequently forced to accept our lives even if they are abusive and unfair. There are no laws that protect women from sexual harassment or abuse.
Hence, when a woman files complaint of a sexual harassment in the job or in a public place, or a charge of spousal abuse, she has no where to turn but to the Wahhabi Matwa, who have adopted an extreme view of Islam toward women and always blame the female for such issues.
Most women have accepted their fate and are sadly conducting their lives inside their homes while others object silently for fear of being caught and punished. We have tried to speak up and voice our demands, but every time we are silenced and sometimes punished. For example, some Saudi women protested against the ban on driving by driving their own cars, but unfortunately, they were stopped and expelled from their jobs to satisfy the rage of the religious extremists who view women’s activity as a sinful act that signals the deep corruption in society.
I can tell you that the suffering of the Afghani women is nearly matched by the experiences of Saudi women. Just as the world united to end the Taliban’s oppression of Afghani women, we need to end this sad and painful control over us in Saudi Arabia by the Wahhabi religious authority.
We need the world community to help us have better and descent lives that enable us to live in a healthy society and therefore produce healthy generations of women that are neither angry nor bitter at life.
Amal Al-Qahtani (Ph.D)