Friday, February 8, 2008

Who Determines my Rights?

Tuesday, 05 February 2008
By Sabria S Jawhar

Yakin Erturk, the United Nations' special rapporteur on violence against women, is in Saudi Arabia this week for a first-hand look at how much progress or how little progress we have made in providing women with equal rights. She will interview government officials, probably members of the Shoura Council and women who are active in working for the rights of Saudi women. Erturk may have already had this trip scheduled, but she also may be here after the hearing held last month in Geneva by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
A number of committee members thought that Saudi Arabia's delegation gave a less than satisfactory performance when discussing the gains women have made here.
We are now in an uncomfortable position of having to defend ourselves from Westerners who insist they know better about human rights issues. Human rights? I could go into the issue of the Iraq war and point fingers that human rights appear to have taken a back seatto the killing of tens of thousands of Iraqis or the phony elections Western nations support in Third World countries, which don't amount to much in the name of democracy.
No, I won't turn the tables on the West. As they like to say from their high horse, "We're talking about YOU, not us." But to be honest, I am glad that Erturk is here and wants to see for herself the status of the Saudi female.
It's not a pretty picture. The issue of whether a woman can drive a car is beyond absurd. The ban should have been lifted a long time ago. I have to wonder what everybody is so afraid of.
But the real issue is male guardianship and now the UN is making a lot of noise that Saudi Arabia should draft legislation to "enact a comprehensive gender equality law" that basically eliminates entirely male guardianship.
I agree. I've had enough of it. I've been a professional working in journalism and academia for many years now and have proven myself to be responsible. I'm fortunate that my father is an open-minded man and has given me permission to travel anywhere I please. But really, as much as I love my dad, who is he to give me permission to go anywhere or to do anything with regard to my future?
The concept of male guardianship is outdated. We don't travel from city to city across the desert on camels and camp in tents anymore. We don't need protection. There are laws and services worldwide that provide all the necessary tools to get Saudi women from one place to another.
I want to marry whom I please, divorce that person if I choose, and demand my rights to getting custody of my children if it ever came to that. I don't want the male members of my family to tell me what I am entitled to.
I want to own property without bothering to get permission from a man or have him as a sponsor. I want to choose where I live, where I study and what job I will have.
I pretty much have all of this, but once again I know dozens of other women with similar educational backgrounds and professional status who don't. I don't want to tell Erturk, "Gee, I'm lucky because my father gave me permission to travel." I want to tell her I can travel anywhere. Period.
While I am all for Erturk's visit, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that we are going to roll over and lift the male guardianship laws. There is something distasteful about having strangers come into my home and telling me that we have it all wrong and we have to do it their way. We don't like being told that male guardianship laws are medieval and that international standards should replace Shariah.
Did someone at the United Nations forget we are the land of the two holy mosques and the cradle of Islam? Did someone forget we are governed under Shariah and just because the United Nations established a treaty banning discrimination against women without our input almost 30 years ago that we need to jump on the UN bandwagon?
One of the lessons the United States and other Western nations hopefully have learned since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is that democracy can't be forced on another nation. It must come from within.
I want Erturk's input. I want her help, but I don't need her or anybody else to tell me what is good for me. I and my journalist colleagues, my sisters working in the private sector and academia, and the other Saudi women who advocate for our rights can speak for ourselves.


Paula said...

Dear Sabria,
My name is Paula and I am a Spanish journalist living in Cairo. I sent you an email yesterday. I'd like to contact you today, if possible, since I am writing an article on women's rights in Saudi Arabia and I'd like to have your views on the issue. Please, contact me if you're interested.
Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

Dear Sabria, Ive stumbled upon your post through a BBC story on Saudi bloggers. It makes em very happy to read that women such as yourself are making a stand for yourself, on your own grounds. I fully support you. I live in the West (although i am an immigrant from a culture which has similar ideals as Saudi, albeit not as strict), and even in the West we have situations where women are still seen by some as second rate citizens. So we are not all that different.

You mentioned things like driving, and getting permission from your father. It makes me think of the time when I was growing up and I had to ask my Dad permission to do most things. We didnt have a law that forced us to do it, but culturally we had to. So sexism is sexism, no matter whether it is cultural, religious, or legal requirement.

I am glad Saudi women are so strong and are willing to fight for your rights. Im 100% behind you.

Respect to you all, my human sisters.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
raaasa said...

Dear Sabria,

I teach language in a Canadian college where we have had a steady stream of male Saudi students.

One of my challenges is to find writing assignments that offer equal opportunities to all my international students. Hence, often we write on generic topics that all students would have experienced. One such topic is family, in which students are asked to describe and analyze the family structure and roles of the family members.

From the male Saudi students, I often get such ideas as "our women don't like to go out" and "Our women are lucky because they are not responsible" and "the man makes all the decisions, but the husband and wife are equal."

I try to stimulate all my students to think about the world, in all its aspects. On the other hand, I try to be respectful and culturally sensitive as well. It seems to me that students that write such comments as those above are not thinking--at all. It is also possible that they imagine that their culture is beyond understanding for anyone outside of it in addition to understandably wanting to project only a positive front to outsiders.
From my point of view, if people open their eyes and think, inevitably there will be positive change as this turns to action. Perhaps, I am too simple? (Any suggestions would be most appreciated.)

I look forward to the day I have female Saudi students in my classroom.

sabria jawhar said...

Dear Raasa,
Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I would be more than happy to send you my suggestion if you send me your e-mail. I won't post it here.

Average Joe Body Builder said...

I agree and disagree with the original poster. I do agree, like the original poster that there has to be some internal reformation, on the other hand I find it strange that for issues related to "moral philosophy" ie the social sciences, that she wants the help of a non-muslim, or a nominal muslim at best. There is more than enough strands of liberalism within Islam without violating the original intent to tackle the problems relating to women.

I suppose the author is saying the same as I am but just in a different way. Sure ibn al-haitham got his ideas about optics from earlier Greek sources, but as a moral philosopher he was not about to take dogginess of the Greeks and try to "reform" his world. If Saudis want to a more liberal society go back to the original sources of the Quran and Sunnat, and start again, because Allah knows Wahhabism isn't exactly considered a viable alternative for most people, at least no one that I know.

There are a billion plus muslims, and with all the problems that they have the least that KSA can do is admit that some of them have it more right than KSA does. The openness of Malaysia, the innovativeness of Pakistan, the Art of Egypt, the cinema of Iran. All of them, even so-called "terrorist" Iran allow their women just a little bit more freedom than KSA.

I would suggest that rather than get her help from the UN, maybe bother herself a little bit more, maybe get a little bit more uncomfortable and put the pieces together from the world that you come from that is the Muslim world, regardless of whether some of us are not even Saudi or oh might be even a lowly Ajami "slave" who might be cleaning her toilet and getting a monthly pittance of joke for a salary. That is another subject for another day.