Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The death of a Saudi woman

In Saudi Arabia common sense often takes a holiday.

Last month an incident occurred at the Teachers’ Education College in Qassim. As usual, press reports are sketchy, but the facts as we know them are all too familiar.
It seems a young female student reportedly fell ill at the college and faculty staff made the appropriate response by calling the Red Crescent Society emergency medical technicians. So far, so good. That is except when the EMTs arrived at the front gate they were allegedly refused entry because they were men.

An argument ensued between the college security team and the EMTs. During all the shouting and finger-pointing the young woman died.

This kind of thing happens often enough. Since a vast majority of medical emergencies involve families and more than half involve women, we have seen urgent medical services fall the wayside because we believe that men attending to a woman is inappropriate.

In effect, we are all too happy to sacrifice a woman’s health, even her life, to protect the reputation of our loved ones. My impatience, however, is the entirely inappropriate reaction to such incidents that make me wonder if we have taken leave of our senses.

The fallout from the death of this young college student did not focus on the reason why she died. Instead, the reaction was that if the EMTs were women none of this would have happened. The answer, therefore, is that Saudi Arabia must recruit female emergency responders to provide adequate care for patients.

I’m all for women working as EMTs. Except for one thing: Saudi society frowns on women taking such jobs. It’s not honorable, remember? Even Saudi men don’t want the icky job of dressing injures, carrying people to the ambulance or seeing people in undignified circumstances. The Red Crescent Society in Qassim reported that only 100 men applied for 1,000 available jobs. One-thousand vacancies!

But that’s not my main concern. College staff had the presence of mind to call emergency responders when the woman became ill. But they lost their cool, and their courage, when the EMTs showed up. Two things happened as far as can be determined. The college staff allegedly refused the EMTs entry because they would be touching the woman. If it turns out the woman was not seriously ill or had recovered, college
officials may be exposing themselves to questions from authorities as to why they allowed strange men to touch one of their female students.

Self-preservation overrode common sense. Staff members wanted to protect the girl’s reputation and their own by refusing treatment.

The other reason is the creeping erosion of the true meaning of guardianship. In Saudi Arabia every single male, from the taxi driver I flag down on the street corner for a ride to the security guard at the airport who reads my father’s written permission allowing me to travel is my mahram. I have millions of mahrams who have an opinion about the way I conduct my life and think they know better than my father and brothers.

I can imagine the conversation between the male security guards and EMTs at the college entrance: “There’s a reputation at stake here and we can’t allow you in.” The victim died knowing her reputation remained intact because of a decision made by non-family members who have their own ideas about guardianship.

Recruiting female EMTs, and of course we are talking about hiring them from foreign countries, is not the answer. It will just bring up more questions. Will female EMTs be able to drive ambulances? Well, no. Will a female EMT be permitted to work with male colleagues and be alone with them in an ambulance? Probably not. Will a female EMT be permitted to treat a male patient alone in the rear of the ambulance while her male colleague drives the ambulance to the hospital? Not likely.

Saudi female emergency responders should be hired to possess the full authority to do whatever it takes to save lives and get the job done. But it doesn’t’ solve our fears of having to answer to law authorities about our decision to allow a man to treat a woman. It’s not khalwa, but in today’s society just about anything passes for khalwa. Our inability to define what is true khalwa has affected our rational thinking. In this case our inability to allow a life to be saved.


Anonymous said...

After reading this story I am in rage and feel crying. How many more years and death will it take to change the mentality ?

Joel said...

Conservative societies change gradually and from within. Suggest what is done by families when some emergencies arise- convey the sick girl(s) to the A & E unit of a nearby hospital at least the school authorities are that authorized and that way both need and honor are all met.

Christine said...

Such a tragic situation. I'm glad you're writing about it and drawing attention to it.

Anonymous said...

I had read about it in the Gazette.It was so annoying to have come across something like at least in this country.How can you prevent someone from saving a life?Its ridiculous to say the least.The College is solely responsible for this fatal incident.


Has anyone been booked/arrested for the murder?

And if I am not wrong, was it not the ladies of (then) Yasrab, (now) Madinah, tending to the injured at the Gazwa of the Trench? Were they not not married to the injured? What about Saudi men when they get treatment from nurses?

Susie of Arabia said...

EMTs are TRAINED PROFESSIONALS who save lives - they are not thinking of a woman in a sexual way when her life is at stake. Another absurdity in this land. I wonder if the dead woman's family is happy that her reputation was preserved ... small consolation.

ahmad said...

What is the purpose if you writing this in English?

The only thing that comes to mind is that you are asking for the support of English speaking nations and countries, USA? UK maybe?

Are you trying to put your country under international pressure and attack in order for your people to change? whatever you call it, this is called treason.

You can chose not to publish this and live with yourself know that you have double standards. This is for you to read and i don't care if you don't publish it. Just know that you need to love your country and believe in your religion and you people more. Read about " Alwala2 Walbara2" it is an integral part of our religion that many people don't get even the official religious speech is against it.


Anonymous said...

At least a monument should be erected for this lady, or her story be told as a woman that died for virtue and honour.

It is a sad day, when things like ths happen......

Thank you for writing about this, there are lessons to be learned....

Anonymous said...

@ ahmad,

My brother you are very conservative and people like you are making problem for our religion and people around the world who have started yet thinking that our religion is something very harsh to follow. Till when you will always play your life at back foot. If you cannot stop wrong then at least take it wrong at your heart because you are answerable to for your this deed on the day of judgement.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for this innocent, but honorable bint who died so some men could keep their honor. It's situations like this that make us non muslims wonder what is wrong with you guys.............What does a dying person have to do with an argument about honor? There is a disconnect somewhere.

Laura said...

It seems incredible to me that in the Kingdom there is not a law which would allow emergency staff to go in a place in a situation of emergency. What in case of a fire or other emergency ?