Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are women protected?

When I was a university student in Makkah, I was often homesick since it was the first time I was away from my family.

The rules then, which still remain today, ensured that my loneliness didn’t count much. On weekends, university officials were charged to ensure girls like me were protected at all costs.

We couldn’t be trusted to leave the dormitory because girls could get into a lot of trouble when left to themselves.

So on Thursday nights, we would be locked up in our dormitories as prisoners until classes resumed on Saturday morning. The steel doors at the bottom of the stairwell that led outdoors were padlocked and an elderly man would guard it in case a crook wanted to break in and attack us.

If my brother would come to take me out to dinner or show me how the world looked like on weekends, his name had better be printed on the university’s approved list of guardians or I wasn’t going anywhere. And of course the guard should be at his post or my brother would have made his trip for nothing.We would be locked up for 48 hours assuming that we were safe.

I later realized that we were anything but safe.The old buildings lacked basic fire safety equipment and sprinkler systems. If a fire had broken out due to a girl’s sloppy cooking, we would have all burned down to death at the foot of those steel doors.

When 14 girls died in the March 2002 fire at an intermediate school in Makkah, I shuddered to think what could have happened if the fire had broken out in my dorm.Recently Okaz reported that a fire broke out at a private girls school in the Eastern Province.

The fire was started by an electrical malfunction. Fortunately the 250 girls were evacuated without any reported injuries. This was the sixth incident at the same school in just two weeks time.

So what did the government agencies learn from the 2002 Makkah school fire?

Apparently nothing.

Lt. Hamad Al-Juaid, chief of the Civil Defense Department in the Eastern Province, said the school demonstrated “gross neglect” of basic safety measures, and risked the lives of young students.

Further, Civil Defense authorities said they have not been allowed to conduct safety inspections at girls schools to check if the schools complied with safety laws.Our society insists that females must be protected, but fails to adhere to basic safety measures to guarantee their well-being.

Isn’t this hypocrisy?What is the logic behind denying Civil Defense authorities the access to school buildings? What is the logic of locking up girls in their dorms as if they were cattle. It’s as if Saudi females are an investment to be protected.Certainly the Makkah school tragedy was a result of over-zealousness displayed by a group of guardians.

A pathological desire to raise obstacles and stem progress, even when human lives are at risk, make a mockery of the male guardianship issue. We are failing to look at the big picture. If we as a society wish to preserve the guardianship requirement of women as originally intended, then it means much more than having my brother accompany me to malls or having written permission from my father to leave the country.

It means all forms of protection.


Bint Othman said...

I am an saudi born-brought up expatriate living in the kingdom for more than twenty-five years, mashaAllah and I have never felt unsafe, Alhamdulillah; but when I had moved in to Makkah I found out some very unusual things happening, I felt disgusted. It's not just Makkah, I have heard a lot of incidents happening around the kingdom regarding women, violation of their rights and safety, and to see no actions are taken; is quite heartbreaking.

Apart from the fire breakouts in girls' schools, there is no safety while walking down the street whether alone or with someone. There is always a fear of whether someones watching, taking pictures by mobile, following, teasing, and running over, calling, singing out loud to attract attention, touching and much more. There should be a law implemented against any kind of harassment towards girls and women. Nowadays where women are moving forward towards a more independent life like going for work to make a living, going for further education in another city or country, we women should be protected. Everywhere we go there's always a threat to safety mentally, physically, emotionally, psychology, and religiously:

In Makkah: Women are not allowed to pray in Haram's courtyard near Kaaba during obligatory prayers. The Sheiks refuse to become guides for lonely local women for Umrah.

In markets and on the road: Women are treated badly by shop keepers and salesmen. A woman cannot go out unless a male member of the family accompanies her even if it's just across the street.

For studies: There are no Internet cafes for ladies who do distance learning courses at home, if any problem occurs to their own PC. There are women who donʼt have fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands, and sons, what will they do?

For health: There are women who only have fathers and when the father becomes seriously ill and the daughters call an ambulance, they refuse to come. Then eventually a male relative, neighbor, coworker, or friend has to be contacted who by any chance would either be sleeping, busy, or out of city.

In schools: women educators are expected to do all students' homework in break time without having lunch or at home; otherwise the students' parents complain and verbally & physically attack the teacher and then the principal fires the teacher.

In hospitals: female workers, nurses, assistants, cleaners, and patients are all made a target for pleasure.

At home: Some women fear from anonymous ringing of doorbells, crank phone/mobile calls, text messages, emails, adds to chat etc. The vulgar language they use to get in a conservation in chatting. The maids are subjected to harassment/abuse by their owners. Wives are not treated equally. Girls are married off at a very young age. And in some traditions, right after birth.

Basically, it's everywhere, you name a place and I'll tell you an incident that might have happened according to my source. But do you know why are we unprotected? Do you have any answers to those questions?

I tried to find a private organization that supports both citizen and expatriate women's rights and liberation but unfortunately had no luck so far.

Average Joe Body Builder said...

salaam alaikum,

sister bint, i have no problem with anything that you have said with the exception of one thing.
The maids are subjected to harassment/abuse by their owners.

I think you know quite well that the maids do not have owners. These are not slaves, and even if they were, they are NOT property. While you are rightfully upset about how women suffer in this country, it seems that even the saudi women have not yet fulfilled their islamic duty of not being classist or racist. This is a huge problem in saudi arabia, and while i am sure this was just a mistyping, i truly hope that you do not fall in the same category that i see of others that they see the non-saudis as "owned" by some saudi person or organization.

Anonymous said...

i accept your thoughts , wat are all you have mentioned here are worthful to reconsider Women's rights in Kingdom , since the world is chaning day to day Still people here are stick harldy to their so called spirtuals & traditions..i'm a muslim but i dont want to put my future wife inside the house whole day ...Even though i have no sisters , i know how todays muslim gals in kingdom are suffering ...You know i have planned to marry after i leave this country....

May allah bless u all ....Times wil change people also vil change gud times are very near.....