Saudi women columnists have recently spoken out against the oppression of women in their country. They denounced the Saudi preachers who spread negative notions about women in their sermons, criticized the countless limitations imposed on women in Saudi Arabia, and criticized the norms of Saudi society regarding the relationship between husband and wife.
The following are excerpts from some of the articles:
Preachers Spread Distorted Notions About Women
Columnist Dr. Hasna Al-Quna’ir wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh: “Women are victims of [the preachers’] discourse… [which is intended to] condemn them and to prove them inferior [to men] in their piety and in their mental [abilities], [based on] a shameless distortion of the Prophet’s hadith…
“Our TV channels are full of old and new preachers who convey their views directly to the public… Answering [viewers’ questions], they burst with accusations against members of the [female] sex. They excite the viewers’ emotions, entreating them to defend the virtues that the women corrupt…
“An example is the answer given by one of the preachers [to a viewer who asked] about consulting with his wife and seeking her advice. [The preacher told him]: Do not consult with her, for she is emotional and her opinions are not valid… As evidence, he cited the Prophet’s hadith [which says]: ‘a tribe that nominates a woman [as leader] will not succeed’… Many preachers refuse to acknowledge that this hadith… was uttered in [specific] historical circumstances and in a particular context. The Prophet never meant it as a ruling that applies to all women, in every place and at all times…
“Another preacher incited fathers, brothers and husbands against their daughters, sisters and wives, saying that a girl who is not beaten from an early age grows up to be a rebellious woman, difficult to control… This preacher [also] said that a woman who leaves her home without a veil is like [a woman] who goes out naked. He warned the Muslim women against wearing their abayas [a long gown] around their shoulders [instead of covering their heads as well], saying that this was the main reason that women are seduced and fall [into sin]… There was [a preacher] who warned women against shaking a man’s hand, saying that, according to one of the sheiks, a woman who shakes the hand of a man that is not her husband is guilty of… ‘adultery of the hand’…
“The question is why some Muslims have [developed] this dehumanizing view of women, which does not respect [the women’s] humanity and honor. [This situation] stems from disregarding important factors… such as the historical circumstances and the specific context which formed the background for some of the religious laws and rules that [discriminate] against women. It also stems from the failure to distinguish between religious duties pertaining to rituals – which may be subject to absolute principles – and rules of behavior, which are controversial and are not subject to absolute laws, such as [the custom of] covering the face…
“This is what led to these distorted views and to the [development] of rigid thought patterns regarding women which are not open to debate, and which are accepted by the followers and students [of these preachers] who endorse extremist views. The woman is the victim of this insular culture, and her only salvation would be a reorganization of the cultural structure of [our] entire society.”
Saudi Women Are Subject to Countless Prohibitions
Saudi columnist Fatima Al-Faqih examined the question of discrimination against women, trying to assess it in a detailed and objective manner. She wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Watan:
“Are Saudi women actually deprived [of their rights]? [They] are forbidden to drive, forbidden to travel without permission, forbidden to stay alone at a hotel without permission, forbidden to name their own children without [a man’s] consent… forbidden to take out a passport without permission… forbidden to leave their homes without permission… forbidden to take a job without permission… forbidden to change the color of their abayas, forbidden to go to school or to the university without permission… forbidden to purchase shares or to open to a [bank] account in their children’s name without permission.
“[A woman] is not allowed to expose her face in some cities of the kingdom… [She] is not allowed to marry without permission… not allowed to stay married if [one of] her male relatives decides that her husband’s [tribal] lineage is inferior to hers… not allowed to sue for divorce without apologizing and paying a fine, not allowed to keep her children after the divorce, unless she gets permission… not allowed to hold a senior position in the private or public sectors, not allowed to vote or run for office… not allowed to travel alone with a chauffeur… not allowed to annoy her husband, and finally, a woman’s voice is considered [a form of] defilement, and she is forbidden to speak in public, so that her affairs will remain shrouded in secrecy.
“A researcher [studying the limitations on women] would [probably] stop here, since the list is endless, and since he would conclude that whoever doubts the [injustice] inflicted on women either lacks awareness or derives some benefit from the discrimination. The damage [caused by this discrimination] is obvious, and the solution has been delayed, causing the problem to grow [even] more severe. There is need for immediate intervention in order to stop the deterioration.”
A Saudi Woman Lives in Constant Fear
Columnist Dr. Maha Al-Hujailan criticized the norms of Saudi society, where a woman must live in constant fear that her husband may take another wife. In an Al-Watan article titled “the Intimidation of Women in Our Society,” she wrote: “Our culture rests on several basic values of family life, including the assumption that a women must live in constant fear of a man. This is especially true when she gets married, since she must constantly suffer mental and psychological anguish, fearing that her husband may take another wife.
“According to [our] culture, [only] a woman who lives in this sort of fear and anguish properly fulfills her role as wife, while a women who feels assured that her husband will not take another wife comes to disdain her husband and her family life…This culture causes a women to feel mentally and psychologically inferior, like a quarrelsome child who must be constantly supervised, intimidated and punished into performing her duties.
“In our culture, an exemplary, clever, and well-behaved woman is one who fulfils her duty out of the constant fear… that her husband will take another wife, since she is helpless [to prevent this]. [It is assumed that] if it weren’t for this overt or covert threat, the woman would not behave herself.
“No doubt, it is [our] social reality that reinforced this notion and turned it into an accepted [norm] among men and women alike. Some women were raised in this culture, and [its norms] have become part of their mental and psychological baggage. Perhaps this [upbringing] has caused them to believe that a good man who respects them is nothing but a weak and unstable man… In their opinion, an ideal man is a violent one who humiliates his wife. This is the ideal upheld by the society in which they were raised.”