Category Archives: Gender Apartheid

Childhood Defined (for boys at least)

On January 18th, news came out that the Saudi Council has come out with a proposal to define childhood as from birth to the age of 18. And the discussion about age definition came about as a preclude to approve a new child protection system that includes protecting children from physical, psychological, and sexual abuse and prosecuting neglect. There was some back and forth about lowering it to 15 but eventually in a second meeting it was established that 18 is the decision for now at least.

Don’t get too excited though because I bet just like me, it occurred to you that hey that means no more child marriages. Unfortunately that turns out to be not the case, as they had decided that the issue of child marriages is too complex. I don’t know what to make of it so I’m just going to give you a word for word translation of how AlRiyadh Newspaper reported the child marriages discussion:

وفيما يتعلق بتزويج القاصرات واعتباره كنوع من أشكال الإساءة للأطفال والاعتداء على حقوقهم قال بكري ” الموضوع شائك ” وأضاف: تحديد سن الطفولة ب18 سنة يعتبر إشارة لحظر زواج الفتيات دون هذا السن،عدا أن هناك خلافا وجدلا واسعا حول تعريف أو تحديد من هي القاصر.

With regards to the marriage of minors and considering it as a form of child abuse and human rights violation, Bakri said “The issue is thorny” adding: “determining the age of childhood at 18 years is a reference to the prohibition of marriage for girls under this age, except that there is a dispute and wide discussion on the definition and designation of who is a minor”.

Confused? So am I. Bottom line child marriages is not included in the new child protection system. That means according to Saudi law marrying off an 11-year-old to a man in his fifties is not physical, psychological, and sexual abuse nor neglect. If you’re upset about this, the child marriages petition on Change.org is still standing and every signature goes directly to the Ministry of Justice.

There is some good news though. A group of Saudi women have started a hashtag on Twitter #Saudiwomenrevolution and there were some heated debates on there. There was also a group of men and women who tried to put down the whole cause, claiming that Saudi women are lucky and honored. Also that calling for women rights is a Western conspiracy to corrupt Muslim women. Another recurrent theme with the naysayers is accusations that anyone calling for women rights has to have come from an abused background, in other words, trying to shame women into quiet.

Meanwhile a group of Saudi women go out and do what the men are too afraid to do; a group of 40 women protested in front of the interior ministry last week to demand freedom or at least open and fair trials for their imprisoned relatives.

The group who started the #Saudiwomenrevolution have started a Facebook page and are trying to get organized with a proper list of demands. This is the link to their page.

Recommended reading:

Quiet Revolution: The Saudi, Female Brain Drain by the past editor of Saudi Gazette, Rob L. Wagner.

For those who claim that child marriages are Islamic or that the Prophet married Aisha when she was a child, I have two links for you:

الرسول تزوج عائشة وعمرها 19عاماً

And this one pointed out to me by Abdulmouhsen Al Madani:

Rejecting the Myth of Sanctioned Child Marriage in Islam

35 Comments

Filed under Child marriages, Gender Apartheid, Women campaigns

Women participation in 2011 municipal elections: same old excuses

The municipal elections that were conducted in 2005 were the first taste of democracy and governmental participation that Saudis have ever had, unfortunately it was not up to anyone’s expectations. People voted according to tribal affiliation and who their sheikhs directed them to vote for. Campaigns were virtually non-existent and at the end of it all the elected were not heard of, nor results seen.

Above all, the issue that stands out the most with the 2005 elections were that women were banned from voting and nominations. The real excuse was that a large faction of our society still thinks of women as property, sheep, and/or seductive sinful creatures out to seduce them into damnation. However the official excuse was a bit more diplomatic; that it was the first experiment and that the government was not prepared, facilities-wise, to receive women voters.

Since a lot of younger Saudis have started to question the fatwas about women being incapable, lack of women only facilities has become the go-to explanation. This is the same excuse that is currently being employed to explain why women are still banned from driving cars, and not only by muttawas but also by people who seem quite pro-women in most other aspects. They say we need women traffic police as if when an accident happens, not the nearest patrol should attend the site, but rather the one that matches the gender of the driver!? They say we can’t even begin to think about women driving until we have gender segregated driving schools and traffic administration. Lack of gender segregation has not stopped our police, firemen, ambulances, courts…etc. None of these have women employees and yet women are still served by them all. Then we have the government faction that has the most interaction with women on an everyday basis, the PVPV, and they too have no women employees to attend to women.

Bottom-line it’s an empty excuse and those who use it know it to be so. Nothing says that louder than the secret meetings that were conducted regarding the upcoming 2011 municipal elections. In March of last year Alwatan reported that the municipal council members, 1212 in total and of course all men were asked if there was any point in allowing women to vote or participate in any way. This is getting to be beyond ridiculous. How long are women going to be treated like third class citizens? And I’m not the only one frustrated with the situation. Eman Al Asfour, Iman Fallatah and Khulood Al Fahad have decided to take things into their own hands and have started a promising campaign demanding the right to complete participation in the upcoming municipal elections. Besides joining the campaign on its Facebook page, Saudis can actually take part by sending in their contact information, suggestions and how they can help.

9 Comments

Filed under Gender Apartheid, Women campaigns, Women driving

Another day, another misogynist fatwa…

Yesterday afternoon a document went viral all across the online news agencies and social media. The document is dated Sunday the 31st of October and in it is a fatwa and not just any fatwa, an official fatwa from the governmentally appointed committee for fatwas i.e. the highest council of our ultra conservative version of Sunni Islam. What’s so important that this committee would get together and issue a document and on the very same day release it to the press? Women, of course! A quick translation of the document:

This fatwa is issued in reply to the below question:

Several companies and shops are employing women as cashiers who serve both men and women as families. Each day these women cashiers meet dozens of men, and speak to them while handling back and forth money and receipts. In addition these women cashiers are required to undergo training, attend meetings and interact with their colleagues and supervisor at work. What is the ruling on women working as such? What is the ruling regarding companies and shops that recruit women? Please advise.

After study, the committee has come to the following reply:

It is not permitted for a Muslim woman to work in a place where they intermingle with men. A woman should stay away from places where men gather. She should search for employment that does not expose her to temptation nor make her a source of temptation. And what you have mentioned in your question does expose her to temptation and tempt men, hence it is Islamically prohibited. And the companies that employ women are collaborating with them in what is Islamically prohibited and thus they too are committing a prohibition. It is known that whoever fears God by leaving what God has prohibited and does what God asks of him, God will then facilitate his affairs, just as promised in the Quran (translation* verse 3/Al Talaq):

{And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him. For Allah will surely accomplish his purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion.}

And the Prophet PBUH said: It will not be that you abandon something for the sake of God, but that God will compensate with what is better for you. (my translation)

There is a glimmer of hope here though. First off, this council, throughout its history, has prohibited things that remain legal, such as music and satellite TV channels that are not Islamic. So this fatwa might join the list of things that Saudis feel unwarrantedly guilty about but still do. It would be a shame if another door closes in the faces of women who are in desperate need of jobs.

A scan of the document:

*Yusuf Ali translation

63 Comments

Filed under Culture, Fatwas, Gender Apartheid

Education in KSA

Two areas that ultra-conservatives have a stronghold on in Saudi are the judicial system and the education sector. These ultra-conservatives do not pay much heed towards the banking sector, healthcare, commerce and all other areas. But when it comes to our courts and our schools, they just won’t budge. In this post I’m going address  the education sector and their control over it.

This control goes way back to 1960 when it was decided that girls will be allowed to get an education. Men from all over but mainly from Qaseem travelled to the capital to express their opposition even though the girl schools were completely gender segregated and had a separate administrative body overseeing it from the education ministry overseeing the boys’ schools. Throughout the years, the ministers of girls’ education were overwhelmingly long-bearded muttawas and the whole ministry favored employing people who were religiously conservative. Those were the days when mirrors were banned from bathrooms, and uniforms that define the waist or have a belt were against the rules even for teachers. All our beautiful little girls were dressed in bland gray or brown cloth cut into the shape of your grandma’s full-length and long-sleeved house dress. If they cut their hair too short they were punished, and if they styled or let their long hair down they were punished. Stories about principals putting Vaseline in girls’ hair as punishment abound.

Around 1974, the idea that elementary schools would not be gender –segregated was floated around. At that time Shiekh Bin Baz and Sheikh Bin Othaimeen were the most prominent religious leaders. A news organization recently unearthed correspondence that is alleged to be between the two sheikhs in which they were conspiring on how to stop the sinful mixing of boys and girls in elementary schools. Scans of the handwritten letters are also shown in the report.

The country’s concession to the religious establishment’s control over girls’ education stayed pretty much the same through out the 1980s and 1990s. Things changed on the 11th of March 2002, but only after 15 girls died in a fire after the PVPV obstructed the entrance to the school. The PVPV did not let out students who weren’t covered and did not allow the civil defense to enter the school. HRW and BBC Reports of the incident.

The separate ministry responsible for girls’ education was absolved and the administration of girls’ schools was put under the care of the main education ministry that was already overseeing the boys’ schools. How has this changed things on the ground? Not much. Most girl schools are locked during school hours. Physical education is still banned for girls. Subjects are still gender-specific, so that there’s a different science book for girls than the one for boys and so on for all subjects. Some of the things that have changed are the uniforms. For the past three years, elementary girls wear a plain white or striped blouse with a sleeveless gray overdress and the same for older girls except that the dress is navy. Both have defined waists.  It’s an improvement.

The biggest changes are that since last year, principals are given the freedom to choose to allow boys from first to third grade, on the condition that classes would be segregated. The point being that boys at this young age would be better off taught by female teachers and to open up more positions in the education sector for unemployed women. This gender mixing of course is being fought by the religious establishment just like in 1974. Shiekh Yousef Al Ahmed escorted a band of muttawas to object this decision at one of the education ministry offices. A judge published a piece on a hypothetical  situation where a first grade boy is so attracted to his teachers that he flunks on purpose to stay in the girls’ school for as long as possible. Then 20 years later he still can’t stop thinking about them so he finds and hooks up online with one of his elementary teachers resulting in her divorce. In their minds this is not at all far-fetched.

So what’s a typical school day in a Saudi girls’ public school? The day starts with assembly at 6:45 am. First class starts at 7 and the school day ends at 12:30 pm. This is a school schedule for an 8th grade class:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Sat
History
Science
Geography
English
Arabic Grammar
Home economics
Sun
English
Science
Islamic jurisprudence
Arabic spelling
Math
Monotheism
Geography
Mon
Islamic jurisprudence
Art
Extracurricular activities
Math
Science
Quran
Tues
Math
Prophet’s traditions
Quranic interpretation
Science
English
Monotheism
Arabic reading
Wed
Quranic interpretation
Arabic Grammar
History
Arabic literature
English
Math
Arabic writing

As you can see, about a quarter of the time a student is at school, she is learning religion. All that time learning religion and morals and yet our whole society has a culture of unofficially and officially policing each other otherwise we would go wild. After all that religious teaching and our students can’t even Islamically behave in malls so men are banned from entering them without their families because before the ban many harassed and chased women shoppers. Women can’t walk in the streets fully covered head to toe without being harassed. Work ethics, honesty and abiding laws are not widely practiced concepts.  So what’s the point of all those religious classes if they don’t translate into a moral society?

And then there’s all this hoopla about the improvements in the science and math curriculums and that they are comparable to international standards. Let me show you third grade science books. These are the main spreads from the first lesson of each book:

The Saudi textbook is 145 pages. Most pages only have a few sentences. The American textbook is 495 pages, has a glossary, index, many experiments and most pages contain several paragraphs.

Lastly, there’s the teachers. In all the schools I’ve been in, here in Riyadh and Tabuk, they averaged 30 students per class. Teachers could be given a maximum of 24 periods per week. So if you are a history teacher and each class has two periods, then it’s possible that you would be asked to teach 12 different classrooms. And at 30 students per class, that’s 360 students. That’s quite a feat for a schoolteacher. The workload is only one aspect of  how things are. The female teachers I’ve talked to, also complain about not having any health insurance, about being locked up during school hours and having to convince the principal before being allowed to leave and about gender discrimination when it comes to how pensions are paid out.

I know that the current ministry has big plans for education but they also have mountainous challenges. The religious establishment having had control for so long, their people are in almost every office, dragging their feet against anything that even smells western. The current teaching staff is a product of the very same system and has not known any other, getting them to change would be a miracle. Miracles have been known to happen. ..Right now praying for one, is the only thing I can do.

37 Comments

Filed under Culture, Education, Gender Apartheid, Informative

The niqab and toying with women

This is a translation of an article by Badria Al Bishr that was published in Al hayat newspaper yesterday:

It seems that Muslims and, Arabs specifically, want to turn the veil to a case similar to the cases of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, and child marriages. By that analogy, I mean convert cultural habits to acts of worship. For example the use of the issue of women rights in the battlefields between the fundamental Islamists and the British government. Some Arabs circumcise their daughters in secret and with the help of unregistered midwives, risking the lives of their daughters, and depriving them of a normal life. They consider FGM as a form of obedience to God, and some Muslims who hold British citizenship remove their daughters from Britain and force them into marrying while not being of legal age. They do not see anything wrong in lying and fraud, and depriving girls of their rights. All of this is justified by their desire to follow Islam.

Then when such issues come to light and are exposed to public opinion, the Islamic world begins to discuss whether or not Muslims have a right to practice these worships as citizens. This is done without the world understanding that these practices are cultural practices and do not reflect the essence of Islam. Just as when France banned the veil in the streets and Sarkozy would sometimes give security issues as a reason and other times that the ban preserves the identity of women as a human because her face is her identity. No one stood up to say that Sarkozy’s reasons are compatible with Islam, where the human face, male or female, is its identity and should not be obscured. This is an opinion stated by the most fervent Salafist Muslim scholars, such as Alalbani in his book «Muslim women’s hijab in the Quran and the Prophet’s tradition». The protestors to the burqa ban also did not go back to Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, the previous head of Al-Azhar and one of the most important religious entities in the modern Muslim world, when he announced that the veil is not religion, but custom. They instead searched out for extremist fatwas as these were the only ones that would satisfy them. They insist that the removal of the veil, even in such illegal circumstances is a sin, even if it forced women to stay at home, abandoning their interests and the interests of her family, or forced them to pay a fine equivalent to almost two thousand riyals.

Recently, the issue arose again, but this time in Egypt, where the decision was made to prevent female students wearing the niqab to sit examinations at Egyptian universities since the niqab obstructs identifying the student. Although I am with the right of people to express themselves, I would like to point out that the Islamic movements that resort today to defend themselves by claiming a democratic right forget to either take all the truth or leave it whole i.e. that the application of democracy is inseparable from liberalism. Democracy does not warrant you to exercise what is inhumane under the pretext of freedom of cultural practice and personal freedom of belief and expression just because of your Muslim or Arab culture. practices and beliefs such as FGM, child marriages or intimidating women into believing that if they don’t wear the veil, then they have renounced the religion.

The protection of human rights even if the majority opposed, is not subject to a vote. If I had a hand, I would say to them to go play your games far away from our women’s rights which have always been a political toy. I would ask them to direct their games toward men’s rights. The closest parallel to the veil is the shaving of beards, which most Salafi schools agree is prohibited. Despite of this we don’t see anyone banning licenses for barber shops. People are not stopped in the streets or in the universities and chased with advice and discipline. Only the Taliban do this with their men.

23 Comments

Filed under Fatwas, Gender Apartheid

Do we really need a ministry for women?

Last week news came out that the government is seriously considering a women’s affairs ministry. The idea for a ministry originated from an official proposal sent to the government from a group of influential businesspeople in Jeddah. The main point of the ministry is to ensure that women related laws and regulations are followed through and implemented in the other government ministries. I respect the people behind this proposal and I know that they have good heads on their shoulders. However two issues come into play. First of all the ministry proposal is actually one of many in the study that they had presented to the government.

“The study, entitled “Businesswomen in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, also called for “the appointment of women as members in the Saudi Shura [consultative] Council…In addition to this, there is also a recommendation to “remove restrictions imposed on women, whereby it is necessary to appoint men as directors of projects that serve both sexes”. There is also a demand to “ease restrictions on women commuting on public transport, as well as women’s driving, and international travel”.

I’m speculating here but there’s a good chance that some decision maker looked over this list and thought to himself out of these which is the easiest to do to placate these influential unhappy Jeddah rich. Another gender-segregated building for women that will only add ignorable paperwork to our bureaucracy mountain, that’s doable. Hey it can even work both ways and make the muttawas happy.

The second issue is a nagging feeling that this ministry will only add to our misery. Currently, if I go to any ministry, even the ministry of justice I am treated differently and in most turned away at the door because I am a woman. I have to go to a little side-building for women only where a receptionist or clerk is only allowed to process the most routine paperwork. I would not be surprised if this women affairs ministry turned to a women only island where these receptionists and clerks would be moved to as ambassadors of the other ministries.

A ministry for women’s affairs might work in other countries where women are viewed as less advantaged but still fully human and can walk about freely. Here in Saudi, that is not the case. Women are “the other”, something to be taken care of and guided lest it go wayward. A ministry that takes care of only women is just a little too agreeable to the ongoing gender apartheid for my taste.

10 Comments

Filed under Gender Apartheid, Women campaigns, Women driving

Shiekh Al Ahmed issues a fatwa

Shiekh Al Ahmed is no stranger to the issuance of anti-women fatwas. He has made it his personal mission to be responsible for every single Saudi female. He first came on my radar when he went on TV asking that the Makkah Mosque surrounding the Ka’aba be torn down and rebuilt so that there would be complete segregation between the sexes when Muslims visit the mosque for any reason including the annual pilgrimage, Hajj. Another incident is when he took a group of muttawas to the Ministry of Education to ensure that their new policy of allowing boys to enroll in girls’ schools until third grade would be stopped.

Now Shiekh Al Ahmed has a new mission, and you got to admire him for the bold move at least. In direct opposition to the King’s new legislation that no fatwas be made public unless issued or at least pre-approved by members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Sheikh Al Ahmed issued two fatwas on TV. And of course he didn’t disappoint, they were about women. His new pet project is to sabotage HyperPanda Supermarket‘s initiative to employ women cashiers. So he said on a program in reply to a caller that first of all it is haram (Sharia prohibited) in Islam for women to work as cashiers in places where men can be customers and secondly he said that it is not only Jaiz (Sharia acceptable) to boycott the supermarket but also mustahib (Sharia advisable).

The project has started on an experimental basis in Jeddah where currently 16 women are cashiers. If found successful, it will be expanded to absorb 2500 women cashiers all across Saudi Arabia. The application conditions for women according to Arab News are that they be Saudi, above 28 years of age, have a financial need, be a widow or divorced and stick to a dress code.

Shiekh Al Ahmed is calling on all ultra-conservatives to boycott HyperPanda and informed the PVPV that it is their right to file a lawsuit against them. He is arrogantly confident in his followers and the power they have that he says let’s give them a five day warning before we start the boycott. He says that he had called an executive from HyperPanda and found him to be stubborn and insistent in proceeding with employing women. He claims that their insistence is a sign that it is most likely an American supported and plotted scheme to westernize the country. However, my favorite part  is when he says that ultra-conservatives from neighboring countries, like Syria, Egypt and Yemen, call him up to show their support and advise him not to allow what happened to their countries happen to Saudi Arabia.

I keep telling people that the more Saudi Arabia opens up especially when it comes to women’s rights, the more Islamic fundamentalist groups worldwide will too. It will have a dominoes effect on their approach and lifestyle. Because so many of these fundamentalists look to Saudi Arabia as the prime example as to how life should be lived. That’s why I’m going to do my part by supporting HyperPanda’s initiative. Although I’m a Carrefour regular since they are literally five minutes away, I will go the extra distance to buy my groceries from HyperPanda. I hope that others will do the same.

154 Comments

Filed under Fatwas, Gender Apartheid, Popular, Women campaigns