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?
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.