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(en) US, California, The dawn* #3 - In the Shadows of the Shadow Kingdom: Saudi Women and the Culture of Shame - by Sin Nombre

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(Erik egh-A-the-dawn.org)
Date Tue, 14 Sep 2004 15:47:38 +0200 (CEST)

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A society controlled by senior men, especially by family
patriarchs, i.e., male heads of extended families. That
is the definition of patriarchy, and it is also a perfect
description of my own country, Saudi Arabia. There are many
injustices in this country and a lot of people suffer under
the reign of a dictatorial clan. However, none suffer more
than women. They suffer from birth until death. Years ago,
when a man was told that his wife gave birth to a baby girl
he would think it was a bad omen and would sometimes bury
his daughter alive to save himself from the shame that
she might bring to the name of his family. Today this is
not a common occurrence, but the situation is not rosy
– not at all.

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
states (in part): “Everyone is entitled to all the
rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration,
without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour,
sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,
national or social origin, property, birth or other
status.” The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a member of
the United Nations (UN) and is obligated to adhere to
all UN resolutions and international law. However, the
Kingdom is in serious violation of the above mentioned
article. Discrimination of all kinds exists in Saudi
Arabia, but none is more inherited or ingrained into the
system than the discrimination against women.

When the government is accused of its crimes against women
they use the classical defence of saying that God created
men and women to be different and that the rights of men
and women are two separate things. In the Kingdom, Islam is
the law of the land and it is applied to all issues of life
- almost fanatically. But when one looks under the surface,
it is apparent that the ruling family is only using Islam
to enhance its dominion over the people of the country and
to legitimize its illegal hold on the throne. Let us look
at what Islam says and what is really applied as “law”
in the kingdom.

When Islam was in its infancy, women rode horses and
camels. They also supported men in war by helping the
wounded and on rare occasions, when need called for it,
they fought in battles as well.

Today, women are not even allowed to drive cars. They can
not leave their homes without a male chaperon, much less,
leave the country unless they are in the company of a male
relative (father, brother, husband). If a woman needs
to travel and there is not a male relative to accompany
her, then her male guardian (father, brother, husband)
must obtain written permission from the Ministry of the
Interior for her to travel alone. As we can see, Saudi
Arabian women have little control over their own lives.

In Islam, a woman is required to dress conservatively
but she is allowed to show her face and hands. In Saudi
Arabia, women are forced to cover their entire body (from
head to toe) in a suffocating black dress (abaya) when
they venture outside of the house. Any woman caught not
obeying the dress code reaps the wrath of the religious
police who roam the streets and markets. In some cases
they walk around with sticks and hit any woman who is not
covered up, and in other cases they spray paint on the
exposed body part. If you look at other countries in the
Middle East you will see women dressing conservatively
without having to be draped in a huge black piece of cloth.

In Islam, people are encouraged to seek knowledge from
the day they are born until the day they die.

In Saudi Arabia, women can not study anything they want
or desire. They can not study engineering or law. In fact,
their job opportunities are extremely limited. Essentially
women can work in a small number of fields. A woman can
be a nurse/doctor, a school teacher, or work in bank
(an all ladies bank of course). In the last few years,
women (rich women from well known families, to be exact)
have been able to start their own small businesses but
under the law a male must be the CEO or the head of the
company. Hence many women graduate from college and are
not able to find jobs (much like men) and are forced to
stay at home. In today’s world, where a single income
family can barely get by, these laws hinder the progress,
not only of women, but of the country as a whole.

It is painfully clear that the government of Saudi Arabia
is not applying the rule of Islam as it claims, but only
distorting it to fit its agenda. And that agenda is to
establish a hierarchy of domination, men dominating women,
teachers dominating students, the police dominating the
people, etc.

When you learn that women constitute the majority of the
population and that female graduates outnumber the male
ones, you would think that this domination would not last
but you’d be wrong. This domination is possible because
women are taught to respect their male counterparts,
and to treat them as their superiors. Religion is also
perversely used as a tool to subjugate women. After
many years of being treated like slaves, women adopt
their given role, and never question their fates. Even
in cases of physical or sexual abuse by their fathers,
brothers or husbands. Domestic violence is a huge problem
in Saudi Arabia but you will never hear anyone talk about
it. Abused women (and children too) will never speak out
and ask for help, as they are afraid to bring shame to
the names of their families. Women are blinded by their
loyalty to their abusive husbands and are also afraid of
divorce. In Saudi Arabia a man can divorce his wife but not
the other way around. Divorce is like scarlet letter for
women. Once a woman gets divorced it is almost impossible
for her to remarry. Hence, women take years of abuse from
their husbands without saying a word. The case of Rania
al-Baz is a perfect example.

Rania al-Baz was one of the few female TV personalities
in Saudi Arabia and she was beautiful too. On April 4,
2004, after she had a small argument with her husband,
he strangled her until she fell unconscious and then
proceeded to smash her head to pulp. He then dumped
her at the door of a hospital. She was near death, her
face fractured in 13 different places and her chances of
survival were very low. But she did survive to tell her
story and the picture of her battered face was on the
front page of most newspapers in the Kingdom. Of course,
this was not the first time that her husband beat her. But
she remained silent because she wanted to be a good and
patient wife and didn’t want to bother her family. Her
mistake was almost fatal and other women may not be as
lucky. Any abused person should speak out. There is no
shame in asking for justice or asking for you rights. But
the sad reality is that most women will not speak out.

Saudi women are not the only women suffering in this
land. Female foreign workers, who come to work as maids,
are also abused by their employers. Even though, in 1962
slavery was abolished by a royal decree, these women are
treated like slaves. They are abused verbally, physically,
and sexually on an almost daily basis. They are worse off
than most Saudi women because they are in a foreign country
and many can not speak Arabic. They are imprisoned inside
their employer’s home and forced to work like mules. Some
of may work for months without receiving a salary. Others
have been executed for crimes that were unknown to them,
while others face a fate that is worse than death. This
issue is also not talked about in the media or among the
people. It is as if abusing the hired help is a great
tradition that should not be questioned by anyone.

After so many years of oppression and domination by men,
one would be forgiven if he believes that a majority
of these women would want a real change in the status
quo. Alas, most women believe the religious propaganda that
has been handed down through the generations. If women
were allowed to drive tomorrow, I believe most of them
would not and they would call those that drive deviants,
sluts, and infidels. It seems as if women have become more
conservative then men. Is this really so surprising? I do
not think so. After all the years of being taught to behave
in this manner can anyone expect women to rebel against the
system? Not all women, however, accept their given role,
but the ones that are speaking out are too few and their
demands are too small. There has been a lot of talk about
reform and human rights (including the rights of women)
in the kingdom but I think some radical changes are needed.

I hope that human rights and feminist organizations will
continue to press these issues and bring them to the
attention of the entire world. Women should be educated
about their rights as human beings. Regime change would
be great but please let us do this without an invasion.

Please send your hate mail to

>From The Dawn, September 2004

* [Ed. note: The Dawn is an anarcho-communist journal]

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