Feature Article about Women’s Rights in Saudi ArabiaInequity based on gender exists in many societies and varies across social and ethnic groups. In many communities the burden of hardship mostly falls on women. There are many different types of gender inequity such as education provision, employment, access to health, and property ownership. Gender inequity is translated as power imbalance where women are more vulnerable especially in the traditional and patriarchal societies such as Saudi Arabia (Amartya, 2009). In Saudi Arabia, the local interpretations of the Islamic laws and other social norms may have negative implications on women rights.
This feature article will address the issue of women rights violation in Saudi Arabia in areas such as education, marriage, healthcare, and driving ban for women. Under the Islamic laws, most of the freedoms mentioned in the Universal Declaration in Human Rights do not exist in Saudi Arabia. These are mainly the laws that touch on women rights such as covering the faces when in public, the system of guardianship, being discriminated in education provision, unequal treatment in the health sector, and the ban in driving for the female drivers (Amartya, 2009).
All these result in women being victims of circumstances and treated like second-class citizens. As a result many activists initiated campaigns against various aspects of women rights violation in Saudi Arabia. Saudi women instigated a right-to drive campaign that gained attention from international media and other conservative authorities in Saudi Arabia. The individuals involved in the organization of the Women2Drive Campaign had encouraged women to take to the streets in large numbers on June 17th 2011. This was certainly defying a religious edict, fatwa, that forbids Saudi women from driving automobiles (Nichols, 2011).
One leader of the movement behind this campaign, Manal AlSharif was put into detention for one day by the Saudi Police after she had posted a video in the YouTube of herself driving an automobile. According to religious conservatives, female drivers will lead to erosion of moral values in the society. Ms Sharif however opposes such observation saying that she is safer while driving in the streets than walking alone. By 23rd May 2011 more than 600,000 people had viewed the video where Manal AlSharif was seen talking to a female friend as she drove around the city of Khobar (Stewart, 2011).
These images were not ordinary in Saudi Arabia where there are religious police who are tasked to ensure social traditions are observed such as women covering their faces in public, and avoiding public interaction with unrelated males. All the social media tools that were used by AlSharif and other activists to spread the news about the campaign were removed from the internet. The video that showed AlSharif driving was also removed from the internet and replaced (Stewart, 2011).
In addition, the Facebook page that marked the June 17 protest against the driving ban was also removed while AlSharif’s Twitter account was deactivated by the Saudi authorities. Before the “I Will Drive Starting June 17th” Facebook page was removed by the Saudi authorities it read in part, “We women in Saudi Arabia, from all nationalities, will start driving our cars by ourselves. We do not intend to break the law or challenge the authorities, but we simply want to claim one of our fundamental rights.
We possess driver’s licenses and promise to adhere to traffic laws (Nichols, 2011 p. A2). ”