As adults, we seek the kind of independence from our parents which will allow us to build our own lives, explore our potentials, and define our own happiness. Landmarks in maturity may include such hallmarks as getting a bank account, going on that dream vacation, or even driving to the beach by ourselves.
Imagine then, if you had to call daddy to do any of those things, or even to go to the doctor. Imagine if your complaints over this were met by police harassment and detainment.
This is the life of women in Saudi Arabia, who must have the permission of a male guardian to perform all of the aforementioned tasks. The traditional and very religious nation has been receiving pressure over the past several years to reform, but sadly, little has changed. From CNN:
Human Rights Watch has criticized the Saudi government for not living up to commitments it made to the United Nations Human Rights Council. HRW issued a report last year detailing the negative impact of the guardianship system on Saudi women. It said Saudi officials have asserted that such guardianship requirements do not exist.
Central to this drama is the work of Wajeha al-Huwaider, a writer and Saudi native who has been a vocal protester against the curtailment of women’s freedom. Al-Huwaider’s acts of civil disobedience, including her “thought crime” of planning a public protest, have led to several arrests, where she has been questioned by police until a male relative can come to fetch her. The simple acts of holding up a placard or trying to cross the border alone are freedoms we hardly have to consider, yet for al-Huwaider, such acts are stringently persecuted.
It has always been in the ruling family’s interests to preserve stability in the region and to clamp down on extremist elements. To this end, it welcomed the stationing of US troops in the country after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
But the leadership’s refusal to tolerate any kind of opposition may have encouraged the growth of dissident groups such as Osama Bin Laden‘s al-Qaeda, which benefited from popular resentment against the role of the US in the Middle East.
Similarly, I fear where the oppression of Saudi women will lead. To read Wajeha al-Huwaider’s writings is to look into the face of rage. She has had the courage to speak out and taken the brunt of the status quo’s determination to maintain their traditions. No one should ever have to be at the mercy of another to maintain their health and happiness, and everyone deserves the right to participate in and contribute to their society. Eventually, that desire will be impossible to contain. To achieve lasting peace and prosperity, Saudi Arabia must develop their culture by incorporating rather than repressing the talents and energies of those long silenced.
Such a path is open to them; will they choose to follow it?