Being born and raised in America, I and many other Americans have been taught that we live in a country of freedom. Women and men are treated equally; every human being has rights, and you have the freedom to move at will and without restrictions. Women have come a long way in our country, gaining rights ever since the dawn of patriarchy and proving that they are just as good as men with the ability to think, speak, and act for themselves.
However, discrimination of women still exists in America and many other countries, but women are taking a stand and trying to eliminate the inequality between genders, such as the difference in salaries, and the bad representation of and portrayal of women in the media. Women are even overcoming gender roles and in the household, especially recently due to the economy. We have seen husbands stay at home to take care of the kids and house while their wives go to work.
Although America is not nearly free of discrimination, we are working to eliminate it.
Other countries, especially in the Middle East, heavily oppress their women. The most recognized of them is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country which is home to the holy city of Mecca, where Muslims from all over the world go for pilgrimage. Saudi Arabia is a very religious country, and their laws are based on strict interpretations of the Koran. Gender roles in this society come from Islamic law. However, religious law and culture are two different things, and the way women are oppressed in Saudi Arabia is a cultural habit.
It is as if Saudi Arabia is still living in the past, and refuses to move forward with the rest of the world, making it a more enjoyable, safe, and comfortable place for women to live. Instead, it is a country where women live mostly restricted and segregated lives. Saudi Arabian women must be given more rights and freedom. Men are more superior in Saudi Arabia and dominate over the women in almost every aspect of their lives. Saudi women are required to have permission from a male guardian wherever they go. Women must always have a male guardian, be it a husband or father that has duties to, and rights over the omen.
The male guardian must give women written permission over virtually every decision she makes. This includes needing permission for marriage, divorce, travel, education, and employment (Perpetual Minors, 3). Even when permission from a male guardian is not needed or required under law or government guidelines, officials will still ask for it. This law insinuates that women are incapable of making decisions for themselves, treating them like children. The Koran clearly states that men and women are equal. They will both be rewarded for righteous deeds and punished for sin.
As stated in the Holy Koran: “Their Lord responded to them: ‘I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female, you are equal to one another’” (Koran 3:195). It is questionable why Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by Islamic law, can’t see that women and men are created equal, as stated in their Holy Book. Women have traditionally been viewed as caregivers in most societies. They are fragile, feminine, soft-spoken, sweet, caring, loving, tender, gentle, and maternal. They cook, clean, and take care of the children by tradition, but this image of women has changed orldwide.
They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesswomen, and it is incredible that the treatment of Saudi women is happening in the 21st century; it seems a bit more like medieval times. Saudi Arabia continues to move backwards and treat women with no respect or worth. Saudi women are forced to wear a black cloak and head covering in public and around men whom they are not related to. The cloak is called an abaya, and the head covering is called a hijab. The hijab is very much encouraged in Islam to show faith and modesty, but it is the woman‘s decision when she is ready and comfortable to wear it.
She does not have to wear the abaya, just modest clothing that covers her skin. In Saudi Arabia, women are forced by the religious police, who enforce Islamic law, to wear the hijab and abaya in order to repel men and their stares. Like many other laws in Saudi Arabia, the law to wear the abaya was picked from a few verses of the Koran – ones that were appealing to the king. The fact is that religious books contradict themselves, and if you want to take one verse about modesty from the Koran, then you must consider them all. The point of the abaya is to protect women from unacceptable male attention and sexual harassment.
However, some say that it does exactly the opposite, by adding mystery. Within Saudi society, the abaya often carries with it a certain perception of how the woman wearing it should act: walk politely, avoid eye-contact, talk in a low voice, etc. The ideal honorable and proper Saudi woman would present herself as the perfectly molded, mysterious, religious, and modest woman. Interestingly, the older generation of Saudi women was not required to wear abayas. Although no answer has been found after much research of when the abaya was implemented, I believe it may have been enforced in the 1970s.
Presently, it has been viewed in religious terms. Some women have been so brainwashed that they will say they are happy wearing it and defend it. Many women say they want to wear the veil citing modesty, Islamic piety, and pride in family traditions. The abaya should be black, plain, and loose. If a woman does not wear her proper abaya clothing, police may beat her. The abaya does not help women function as equals to men in this society; it was implemented by men to control women in yet another aspect of their lives.
Personally, I believe that men should be showing modesty, not making unfair laws against women because they cannot control thoughts. A Saudi woman superbly explains her thoughts on the abaya: Male culture has inflicted the abaya on women by enforcing their attitudes and used religion to support their ideas which are derived from select interpretations of certain verses of the Koran… [How] were women doped into this in the first place? Men used women’s weaknesses to make them believe weak and submissive behavior is desirable. These lovely characteristics were then dubbed ‘honor’ and ‘morals’ (Life in Black par 5)
Saudi Arabia is the only country that does not grant women the right to drive, and they are segregated from men in public places and even in the house. Women have only recently been granted the right to vote and run in the next elections. Nothing in Islam forbids women to drive, yet women must be driven around by a male driver. Saudi women are trying to voice their concerns, wants, and demands, however fear stops them. In an interview with 60 Minutes, a woman gives a tour of her house. She explains that unless guests are close relatives, men and women do not sit together in the same room.
The woman expresses that she would like more freedom. She says, “I like to drive. Here, the women cannot drive. And I like here to have a cinema… a movie. I like to be free. All people want to be free” (Life of a Muslim Wife). Saudi women do want change, but instead they go with the mainstream of society and conform to avoid problems. Not only do the women of Saudi Arabia not have the basic natural human rights to drive, vote, and the ability to go outside of the house freely, but they are denied the ability to represent themselves in a courts system that already regards women as inferior.
Take the case of an anonymous 19-year-old girl who was raped by six armed men. While the victim was sentenced to 200 lashes and prison time by Saudi Arabia’s Higher Judicial Council, the perpetrators of the crime were only given a measly sentence of one to five years imprisonment. The victim was originally punished 90 lashes for traveling in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape, but the council more than doubled her punishment for attempting to influence the judiciary through the media.
The victim’s lawyer, human rights activist Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, has been banned from carrying her case further, had his license revoked, and has been called to appear before a disciplinary committee for challenging the judgment (Rape Victim, pars. 2-3). Such an atrocity personally infuriates me to tears. Where is the justice and protection of women? Who is looking out for their rights and safety? True Islamic fashion would have the perpetrators stoned to death for such a heinous crime. The Saudi judiciary has proven themselves to be partial in judgment and purely sexist.
Some people may disagree with my beliefs, thoughts, and hopes for this country. Some Saudi women feel like they are treated like queens, living a life of luxury. When looking at that certain aspect, women may feel like they have their own personal drivers, and are protected by the men of their families. However, this is not the way to live. For the women that support the dress code, male guardianship, and limited mobility, they can continue to live that way. Every woman should be given the right to choose how she wants to live her life.
I strongly believe that each person should live in comfort, safety, and freedom. Nobody should fear walking down the street, leaving the house, being assaulted, or any sort of abuse. The Saudi Arabian government must take action in protecting their women rather than oppressing them and treating them as children or subordinates. Gender is not a mark of intelligence; women are equally intelligent and capable of making decisions as men are. Author Natalia Truszkowska states: “Nowhere does Islam allow for the mistreatment of women simply because they are women.
The Koran treats women more as children than as inevitable evildoers. Women and men have the same obligations of sharia (the Islamic law of daily life), the same religious duties of prayer and pilgrimage, and the same Paradise as their eventual destination. Islam does not demand misogyny, only correction” (Truszkowska, par. 6). Author Asghar Ali Engineer similarly states that “the Holy Quran considers a woman mentally as well as morally equal to a man” (Engineer 98). If Saudi Arabia is ruled by Islamic law, why does the Koran itself declare equality between men and women?
The Koran does not forbid women to drive, vote, or walk outside of the house. Saudi Arabia must give women more freedom and rights. While the world is moving forward, it seems that Saudi Arabia is living in the past. Saudi women are repeatedly oppressed, mistreated, and abused. They do not voice their concerns and demands out of fear of being punished for repelling the Islamic law. Saudi women should not be living in fear while doing normal daily things. Saudi Arabian government must reform and improve their laws, giving more rights, freedom, protection, and safety to women.