Friday, November 23, 2012

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah: "The State of Slavery faced by Saudi Women"


Riyadh - An SMS to control women's travels outside the kingdom. This is one of the new "security" measures reserved for members of the fairer sex in Saudi Arabia. Active for the past few days, the service alerts the woman's "guardian" (father, husband, brother or tutor) when she leaves the country, by sending a message to the guardian's cell phone. The measure is so efficient that it informs the guardian even if he is traveling with the person concerned. Developed in secret by the emigration office in Riyadh, the system was discovered by a husband: while he was at the airport with his wife, the man received a text message on his phone saying that his "wife was leaving Riyadh International Airport". Bewildered by the event, he contact Manal al-Sharif, a known activist for women's rights, who launched the case on the social networks.

"The authorities are using technology to track women," affirms the writer Badriya al-Bishr, who denounces "the state of slavery faced by Saudi women, whether they are wives, mothers, widows, rich or poor." According to Islamic law, none of them can leave the country without the signed authorization of their guardian. "This technology", al-Bishr continues, "is the result of a backward mentality that wants to keep us as prisoners."

The government's decision shocked not only women but also many men. One of them joked on Twitter: "In a few years the government will place a microchip in our wives, so that it can follow them anywhere."

The new control method comes after the scandal caused by the escape to Sweden of a woman who converted to Christianity. The affair came to light in August, involving a young woman working in a bank in al-Khari (eastern Saudi Arabia) who came into contact with Christianity through her Lebanese manager and a Saudi colleague. Fascinated by the new religion, the woman decided to flee first to Lebanon and then to Sweden, where she currently resides. According to investigations, she managed to leave the country with the complicity of an official from the passport office in al-Kharj, who falsified the authorisation signed by her guardian, in this case, the woman's father. He filed a missing person complaint in August that put police on the trail of the two men, who are still detained and should go to trial next week. The charges is of trying to convert the woman, bringing her to abandon Islam, and of having helped her out of the country. On 13 November, the young woman's father sent a letter to the Saudi authorities requesting the forced return of his daughter.

In Saudi Arabia, women live under the strict dictates of Qur'anic law. They are obliged to wear the full veil, cannot leave the house unless accompanied by men and cannot drive a car. The activist Souad al-Chammari, the first woman lawyer authorized to defend female cases in Saudi courts, has repeatedly stated that " there will be no real reform in the country without a change in women's status, treated as 'children' even when holding high positions within companies." For the activist, the strict application of Sharia also represents an economic loss for the country. The unemployment rate among Saudi women exceeds 30%.

During these years, King Abdullah has given way to some timid reforms to improve their condition. In October, he granted women the right to vote in municipal elections in 2015 and has reduced the powers of the Mutawa, the terrible religious police, which monitors compliance with the dictates of Sharia in the population. In the past, other monarchs have attempted to reform the Saudi society. The first was King Faysal, who in the '60s introduced compulsory education for girls. Today, young female graduates outnumber their male counterparts.

- AsiaNews