On the 25th of March there was an article in the Arabic Saudi newspaper Al Watan which drew my attention and not only because of the content but more so because of the comments. The article was written by Halema Mathfer. And since I’m not a big reader of this particular newspaper, the name didn’t ring a bell. But according to the comments, apparently this isn’t the first time she (the journalist) has written about women’s rights in KSA. The title roughly translates into The Abaya and sex segregation…have they stopped sexual harassment?. After reading the article I found that it goes beyond sexual harassment and into the two-faced nature or duality of some aspects of our culture. What the writer was trying to get at is that neither the Abaya nor our “special” ways have put an end to sexual harassment cases. According to her The Saudi Interior Ministry has published statistics that the number of sexual harassment cases have risen from 1031 three years ago to 3253 two years ago. Rape cases have gone up by 75% and the kidnapping of women by 10%.
Now considering the source of this information and that they only made public statistics from two years ago, I wonder what the real numbers are. Another point is that frankly, as a Saudi woman, if I or a relative of mine had been subjected to any of the above, my family would think twice about reporting it to the authorities. And Al HamdlAllah I come from a relatively open-minded family. I bet when you count in the unreported cases the real numbers would be much higher.
Going back to the article, she goes on to write that she knows that some people are going to tense up after reading the statistics and that they will no doubt probably start blaming “satanic” women for seducing men into committing these horrendous acts, especially women who don’t wear the Islamic Abaya (tent-like on their heads). Regardless of what these people think, the numbers tell us that it goes beyond the style of the Abaya or segregating the sexes because the majority of Saudi woman wear it in the Islamic style and most places are segregated and yet these things occur.
To explain this phenomenon she believes that it is due to the confusion and double standards we have here in KSA between obligations of traditional society, the requirements of city life and cultural globalization, and what is asked of us by the religious community. This confusion has caused Saudis to care about religion only on a superficial level rather than the quintessence. And it has turned many of us into professional actors. She goes on to give examples of this like the Imam who stands on his lectern and preaches against liberal satellite channels and then the next day is seen accepting monetary offers in dollars to exclusively star on a show on those very same channels. Another example that she gave is that the Ministry of Education forbids schools to play music when singing the national anthem but the Media Ministry allows it on the official Saudi channels. This confusion added to the rise in unemployment, delays in getting married and the limited recreational and educational outlets has shaken our values and integrity. It has brought about these needs and wants and with no Islamic substitutes to fill them. Above all, we have these traditional unyielding appearances that have to be kept up.
In the next post I’ll cover the comments that were posted below this article.