Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Regard of Women in This Country - Or, More Appropriately, Lack Thereof

As if it isn't difficult enough being a Western woman in this country, I seriously doubt that I would be able to cope at all if I was a "local." Jokingly, when we made the decision to come here, my Dad said, "You'll have to wear a burka and walk behind your DH. You won't be able to talk unless you are spoken to first." Funny, Dad. Very, very funny. Ask DH how well that worked for him... There was a myriad of other jokes and much bantering with regard to how I was going to be able to fit into such a rigid society. At one time there was a betting pool amongst a group of friends as to how long it would be before I got in some serious trouble because I am NOT one to keep my mouth tightly shut when I should. I've shown them! Of course, fear of being imprisoned or lashed or worse has played a big factor in my keeping my mouth shut.

It is no secret that women can't drive, here. It is the ONLY country in the world where women are not allowed behind the wheel of a car, although there are reports, with increasing regularity, of women that are driving. There are a lot of things that women can't do. Just yesterday I posted about a woman who not only got caught driving, but may also face charges of being "unveiled in public." Women in this country are not allowed to make decisions about their own health care. A man must do that for them. Women have to have a man listed on documents pertaining to running or owning businesses. And, women are not allowed to travel without a man as a guardian. "You are entering the twilight zone..."

The Passport Department, here, "will soon post an online document that will allow women to travel alone. The document will have to be filled out and cleared by the woman's "mahram" (her guardian under Saudi law). The presentation of this document at the point of embarkation will be enough for women to travel alone." There appear to be quite a few glitches that will have to be worked out before the system is actually implemented. One of which is "who will be the mahram when the woman comes of age and marries, is divorced and then marries again." WTF?!? No. They are serious... "Under existing law, in order to travel alone whether for medical treatement, education or leisure, a Saudi woman - whatever her age - needs to present an approval document from her guardian that must be issued months in advance by the Passport Department."

There are some details of womens experiences of not being allowed to travel, of their husbands withholding permission, and of airport personnel enforcing the laws in the article.

The men here take the issue of how they regard their women quite seriously. And the article says, "...the government was trying to reform what that the refusal comes from within society. Men want to hold on to the power to control women's lives and this would become difficult if the women were given the right to move or travel alone." Yeah. That it would.


  1. there are many more things women can't do here for themselves. I've mentioned before that driving isn't the most pressing issue. I would prefer my widowed sister in law be able to remarry w/out having her kids taken away by her inlaws. (nice huh) I have a long list of better things to focus on than driving. And even when women can drive they will have to be 35 and above and have their mahrams (guardians) permission. which he can revoke at any given moment.

    and yes more women are driving. They are simply tired of waiting for the goverment. A family friend told us how his aunties are driving themselves to work in jeddah every single day. They are older and don't give a hoot.

  2. You won't get any argument from me, Nzingha, about other pressing issues. I had no idea that if a woman, here, remarries - because she is a widow - that the in-laws could take the kids away! Amazing!!! [Well, no, it isn't, really...]


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