Saturday, March 14, 2009

The way Saudi Arabia treats a 75 year old woman: Khamisa Sawadi

I felt this was so important that it would be worth reproducing here. I hope Sabria will not mind. This comes from her "Out of the box" blog. RLC

How Saudi women celebrated International Women’s Day From "Out of the Box" by sabria jawhar, 3/11/09

I don’t think that Khamisa Sawadi celebrated International
Women’s Day last Sunday. No, more than likely the 75-year-old widow was
wondering abut the 40 lashes and four months in prison she is facing
for mingling with two young men, which included her late husband’s
nephew, who had brought her bread.
International Women’s Day celebrates the economic, political and social
achievements of women in the past and the present.
While the event is a national holiday in some countries, such as China
and Russia, it goes largely unnoticed by women n Saudi Arabia. The case
of Khamisa Sawadi is evidence that the social achievements of Saudi
women remain a distant dream.
Sawadi is Syrian but is the widow of a Saudi. The nephew and his friend
and business partner had delivered bread to Sawadi to her home in
Al-Chamil. They were immediately arrested.
In court Sawadi testified that she had breast-fed the nephew as an
infant and considered him her son. But her argument was rejected by the
court, which based its conviction on testimony from the father of the
nephew’s friend who alleged that Sawadi corrupted his son.
After Sawadi serves her sentenced she is expected to be deported to
Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in the advancement of women
in key government positions. The appointments of Noral Al-Faiz as
deputy minister for Girls' Education and Dr. Fatimah Abdullah Al-Saleem
as cultural attaché at the Saudi Embassy in Canada by the Ministry of
Higher Education, inspires Saudi women. Saudi women view Al-Faiz and
Al-Saleem as role models, recognizing that they, too, can achieve
success on their own terms.
Yet the social realities are that Al-Faiz and Al-Saleem are the
exceptions, not the rule, of what Saudi women face in the future. For
every Al-Faiz and Al-Saleem there are 100 Khamisa Sawadis. For every
female Saudi graduate student studying abroad, there are 100 other
Saudi women denied their right to divorce abusive husbands or to gain
custody of their children.
A Saudi delegation can stand before the United Nation’s Committee on
the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and provide a laundry
list of all the good things the Saudi government has done for their
women. But closer scrutiny of Khamisa Sawadi, the Qatif Girl, forced
divorces and the countless 13-year-old brides married off to men four
times their age tarnishes the appointments of Saudi women to high
While we have seen remarkable changes recently in the general
presidency of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevent of
Vice and a new chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Council, it’s the
judges in court that seemed to have lost sight of their religious and
social obligations and revert to tribal customs.
A friend of mine has had her divorce case in the courts for 10 years.
No matter how many appeals she makes to the court, she is refused a
divorce. Another friend is scorned and humiliated by government
officials as she attempts to gain permission to marry a non-Saudi. And
for what purpose? A woman is entitled to a divorce as long as she
complies with Islam and is prepared to return the dowry. A woman is
entitled to alimony, but rarely receives it. A husband can only take a
second wife if his first wife approves, yet these religious obligations
are often subverted by the husband and later upheld by the courts. A
woman is entitled to marry whom she pleases, but the obstacles are so
great to receiving permission it’s virtually impossible to get married
to who she wants.
There is no religious prohibition preventing women from driving yet we
are forced to mingle with unrelated men who are employed as our
drivers. If Sawadi is guilty of mingling with men who are not her close
relatives, then 95 percent of the Saudi women are guilty of the same
thing. Imagine if the laws, as interpreted by the Saudi courts, were
administered in an equitable manner. The jails would be bursting at the
seams with thousands upon thousands of Saudi women bearing the scars of
hundreds of lashes.
Saudi Arabia is witnessing an unprecedented brain drain of female
post-graduate degree holders who find jobs and freedom in other GCC
countries – notably the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain. They
know they can live productive lives, work alongside whomever they want,
and drive a car without looking over their shoulder for the Hai’a. They
can live their lives without being exposed to the risk of facing a
judge who parses every word of a Hadith to reach a verdict he had
already decided on or who will succumb to tribal pressures.
I have great hope for the future of Saudi Arabia. Certainly change,
especially in our society, comes slowly. But tell that to Khamisa
Sawadi and my friend who hasn’t been granted a divorce after 10 years.
What about their future?

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