Haram Month #7 – A woman’s life in Saudi Arabia

Life in Saudi Arabia is extremely restricted if you’re a woman, arguably more so than if you’re a man. Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive due to religious law in the country, they can be harassed by the country’s religious police – who enforce the Islamic law that governs the country – for wearing too much make-up or too little clothing (or both) which means they’re effectively forced to wear the abaya and head scarf constantly when in public and are forbidden from expose any part of their bodies except in the case of medical examinations, their interactions with men who aren’t their relatives are restricted, many spheres of public life are segregated by gender and any mixing is met with punishments that are actually harsher for the woman, they are forbidden from travelling on their own, they are forbidden from conducting business on their own, they aren’t allowed to try on clothing in retailers as one would in the West, and they can’t compete in sports in their country like men can.

There is more that women can’t do in Saudi Arabia without a male guardian, besides what I already mentioned. Getting a higher education, getting married, getting a passport, getting healthcare, all these things require the permission or advice of a male guardian. And do you know how ridiculous it is? The male guardian in question can be a father or a husband, but also a brother and a son! Think about that. That means an adult woman in Saudi Arabia can be forbidden from doing anything without the approval of a child, and that child also has the power to make important decisions for her! That’s exactly as insane as it sounds. It also means that adult women still lead lives that are controlled by their fathers, while in the West being an adult means being fully independent. But whoever the male guardian is, it is ultimately irrelevant because this means that a woman in Saudi Arabia has next to no agency without a man. Human Rights Watch has an extensive article of this male guardianship system as well as accounts from Saudi women on what life is like being consistently controlled by their male guardians in an article entitled “Boxed In“.

And predictably enough, male guardianship is something that is based on Islamic teaching and law. These are some Hadiths which state it is non-permissible for a woman to go without a Mahram (which usually refers to kin who the woman cannot marry and serves as an escort for the woman, but it seems that the word sometimes refers to a woman’s husband whenever he serves as escortt):

It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel the distance of one day, except with a Mahram.” – Muslim Book 4, Number 1339

The Prophet said, ‘A woman should not travel except with a Mahram, and no man may visit her except in the presence of a Dhu-Mahram.’ A man got up and said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! I intend to go to such and such an army and my wife wants to perform Hajj.’ The Prophet said, ‘Go along with her.’ – Bukhari Book 28, Number 42

No person should be alone with a woman except when there is a Mahram with her.” – Muslim Book 15, Number 478

There is also a verse in the Quran which states the following:

Men are in charge of women by right of what Allah has given over the other and what they spend for maintenance from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. But those wives from who you fear arrogance – first advise them; then if they persist, forsake them in bed; and finally strike them. But if they obey you once more, seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. Surah An-Nisa 4:34

Based on this, it seems clear to me that the idea of that a woman’s life and interactions are controlled by men is something that is derived from and/or justified by scripture, which is no great surprise considering that Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia law and Islam is the state religion (not to mention, you actually have to convert to Islam if you want to become a Saudi national).

The only question I have is this: where are the feminists? I don’t see them outraged over Saudi male guardianship, or the fact that this is justified in Saudi Arabia by Islamic scripture.  I can only assume they are in the same place they were hiding in when the mass sexual assaults in Cologne occurred before they decided “this has nothing to do with Middle Eastern refugees”.

I will conclude this post with a link to an audio clip posted by Isaac Cohen on his Twitter, in which a Saudi woman describes life under her male guardian: https://twitter.com/IHWCo/status/763993259496525824



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