Monday, May 02, 2005

Forum Demands Steps to Protect Women's Rights - Arab News

Topics ranged from women’s ignorance of their rights to blaming the system imposed on them and the men in their life.

The masthead topic of the evening was women’s identity. “We want to talk about Saudi women’s identity, not only in terms of the physical identification card but in terms of who she is as a person in the society, her role in the family, her relationship with the man and why she is abused physically and psychologically and denied her God given rights,” said Aljohara Al-Angari, director of the Al-Eman Cancer Society women’s branch and a senior member of the National Society for Human Rights.

Comments after that followed on how part of the problem is on the way mothers raise their sons giving them authority and privileges over their sisters and over herself simply because they are male thus paving the way for this son to grow into a dominating man.

A heated exchange of opinions followed on the various interpretations of a verse in the Qur’an often used to justify the conservative view that men are superior to women where Allah said to Maryam’s mother when she was pregnant with her that “the male is unlike the female.” While some scholars interpreted that to mean that men are superior, many others said that linguistically in a comparison between two things, the first item mentioned is being compared with a second superior item, thus the female infant about to be born was better than any male.

While the majority of the women who spoke demanded changes in the curriculum which emphasizes women’s duties in the house and her submission to men as well as changes in the judicial system that are often unfair to women, there were a few dissenting voices who said that we shouldn’t be guided by Western ideas and influenced by strange views that do not agree with our culture and “special position”.

Another sensitive issue raised was the benefit of issuing a woman’s ID card if it is useless because in all legal, government and business and travel procedures the woman still needs her guardian’s approval.

Some talked about how the Saudi woman might be envied by others because supposedly she is spoiled and has all the luxuries but in reality she is controlled by men and treated as an invalid or a “source of sin”.

Another pointed out that the women gathered do not represent all Saudi women. “We are of a certain social level, educated and most of us are employed. What we are saying here is beyond the reach and understanding of the majority of women who might be comfortable with their situation and either do not know their rights or do not want to change the status quo or afraid of the changes,” said Dr. Heba Attiya.

One woman stood up and told her story. “My husband beat me and I suffered the same kind of injuries (television presenter) Rania Al-Baz did. For 15 years I kept quiet for the sake of my daughters with the intention of seeking divorce once they were married,” said Huda. “He then divorced me and now I live alone. My parents are dead and I don’t have a brother to take care of me. I rented a small apartment with my teacher’s salary and I’m furnishing it little by little. I am proud of myself for suffering silently under my husband’s cruelty for the sake of my daughters and I am prouder now for being independent and supporting myself. But I am denied my daughters; he doesn’t allow me to see them and they cannot visit me. They are even afraid to talk to me when I visit them in their school because they are afraid of punishment if he found out. Where are my rights? I’m seeking justice through the courts and with the help of the Human Rights Society,” said Huda in a choked voice that brought tears to everyone’s eyes.

With that the women went silent for a few seconds. Al-Angari at the end promised that all the points and suggestions will be presented to the appropriate authorities.

Again we have to wait for the men to approve our opinions and allow us our rights,” said one attendee.



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