Guardianship rules need reform
Whenever I go to my local medical center for an appointment or have my young daughter receive her vaccinations I see hundreds of Saudi women sitting in waiting rooms, veiled and with young children at their feet.
Most come from the outskirts of Jeddah and are seemingly very religious. For the most part they are genuinely happy with their lives. This, I say to myself, is the real Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has many faces when viewed from the outside, and few of them are good: Oil-rich, empty desert, wealthy families with lavish spending habits and criminally oppressive to Saudi women just to name a few.
It’s the role of the media to take a complicated social issue and break it down to the simplest explanation to make it digestible to readers and viewers. People don't have the time to read multi-layered explanations the length of a university thesis to understand the complexity of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. So the news media takes on that role and reduces societies to stereotypes.
Certainly, social media has taken on the role of giving the oppressed a voice. YouTube, Twitter and Instagram postings have perhaps done more than lengthy reports from international human rights organizations to expose abuses, particularly when it comes to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
But social media cuts both ways. If one assumes the role of advocate and publicizes injustices, then that individual more or less becomes a tool of the Western media because that individual speaks to the Western narrative that Saudi women are oppressed. It’s not “some” Saudi women or “most” Saudi women, but the implication is all Saudi women are oppressed. The narrative completely ignores the reality on the ground. The women I have come across at the medical center would beg to differ.
Critics of Saudi Arabia would then counter, well, happy Saudi women are “brainwashed.” Or my favorite Western retort, “can Saudi women be brainwashed if they don't know they are being brainwashed (by believing they are happy)?”
Make no mistake, women in Saudi Arabia are not given all the rights they are entitled to in Islam and the male guardianship rules are in dire need of reform. This is something that I have gone on record heartily endorsing. And many Saudi women have taken to the social media in protest of male guardianship using the hashtag #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship.
Saudi women, according to CNN (that Western voice again!) are posting selfies holding signs that say things like, “Slavery comes in many shapes and forms: Male guardianship is one” or “I'm a prisoner and my crime is that I’m a Saudi woman.”
I have no doubt that these young women are truthful and are suffering under the current legal system. They deserve better. They are victims of a system that allows a father, son or brother virtual authority over their lives, and, I might add, authority that conflicts with Islam.
But missing from the equation is the Saudi family dynamic. Each Saudi family is different and handles the guardianship issue differently. An abusive, rigid, control-freak of a father is going to be an abusive, rigid, control-freak of a guardian. A father that genuinely loves his daughter and wants the best the world has to offer her will not stand in her way and will make male guardianship for her, not against her.
Saudi women are no different from their Western counterparts. We all navigate a patriarchal society whether it’s the United States, India, Pakistan or Mexico and the rampant global misogyny. Saudi women make adjustments in their daily lives to deal with discrimination whether it’s being denied access to a public building or needing dad’s permission to leave the country. American women make their own adjustments in their daily lives whether it’s to avoid sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace or to make accommodations to placate that abusive, rigid, control-freak of a husband and/or father.
When Human Rights Watch recently released its report on the abuses of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, and CNN followed up with its special report outlining those abuses, our Western masters forgot one little detail: Saudi Arabia will not throw male guardianship into the dustbin. We live in a theocracy and Islam guides us. And guardianship is part of Islam.
The question is whether we as a nation have the wherewithal and courage to correctly apply guardianship to protect and support Saudi women. If we as a nation address this question and implement reforms that better reflect Islam, then the abuse, at least when it comes to the question of guardianship, will be minimized.