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The concept of male guardianship is outdated.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.