Misogynistic, religious and moral policing of women has been one of the most contentious issues surrounding the Arab nation for as long as anyone can remember and it seems things are getting more ridiculous by the day.
Although Saudi Arabia has made some minor advances on women’s rights in the past few years – such as lifting the ban on sports for girls at schools, permitting women to run and/or vote in municipal elections in 2015 without male approval and allowing them to travel abroad without male supervision – it still has a long – long – way to go.
In her special report called Laws of Men: Legal systems that fail women, Caryle Murphy of GlobalPost reveals how Saudi law – in contradiction to Islamic law – legally bounds women to their male guardians practically all their lives.
Murphy, through the story of a woman named Sara, explains how women in several cases are victimized by their guardians and they usually find little or no protection in court.
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Although his husband walked out almost 15 years ago, he never officially divorced Sara – who lives in an impoverished area of Jeddah. This state of separation without any legal documentation is nothing short of being trapped in limbo for women.
While men can do pretty much what they want to do after leaving their wives, the woman is left at the mercy of the very man who deserted her.
“The Saudi government's social welfare department would not assist her financially, because she was still legally married and therefore remained her husband’s legal responsibility,” writes Murphy.
The writer explains how this unfair system causes a network of abuse against women who don’t get justice in courts because they are – too – dominated by the same misogynists who made the rules.
“Because its [the law’s] implementation depends on a guardian’s personality, this system creates conditions for widespread abuse. And women victimized by male guardians usually find little relief or protection from courts in a country with a legal system dominated by religiously conservative male judges.”
While there are some instances when husbands turn out to be supportive, the system of guardianship –as a whole – needs to be scrapped for the sake of many others who are not lucky enough to have empathetic former life-partners.
Many would think such medieval laws are derived from the state’s religion – especially when Saudi Arabia identifies itself as the beacon of Islam. However, you’d be surprised to know that it’s not the case.
“The guardian system as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia is not ordained or mandated by Islamic law. Rather, Saudi women are kept under the thumb of men by a skein of Saudi tribal traditions and customs that have been given an Islamic gloss,” Murphy explains.
“This is not Islam. It’s different from the real concept of Islam,” Sara was quoted as saying.
And it’s not just the guardianship laws that are misguided in Saudi culture.
Although the country’s law doesn’t forbid women to enter restaurants without a male chaperon, they are being banned anyway. Similarly, driving is not legally prohibited for women but there has been a long-standing ban on that.
Even worse, Saudi Arabian authorities don’t even allow women to ride bicycles without a male blood relative.
No wonder it has frequently been voted as one of the top five countries worst for women in the world.