Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The women’s Rights issue in the Saudi Kingdom has always been a sensitive and much deliberated one both within the watchful eyes of the International community and amongst feminist groups. It always brings to fore the moot question of sharia laws and fundamental questions of Human Rights.
In January 2010, Sawsan Salim was sentenced to 300 lashes and one and half year imprisonment by a Saudi Court on charges of making “spurious complaints” against government officials and for “appearing without a male guardian in court”.
The verdict reflects the discriminatory system of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, in which women are prohibited from many acts without the presence of a male guardian.
Cases likes Salim’ s is not uncommon in the Kingdom. There have been numerous cases some which have been brought to light under the watchful eyes of the International Human Rights groups.
One of the high profile cases involves Fatima Azzaz who had to fight to live with her legal husband and her children after her family tried to force them to divorce. Eventually the Saudi Human rights commission and the Supreme judicial council had to intervene.
Human Rights in Saudi Arabia like many Islamic Nations are based on sharia laws. Most often than not the laws transcends many forms of Human rights including those related to women. The kingdom itself ratified the International convention against Torture in October 1997 according to the office of the UN high commissioner for Human rights but the courts here continued to mete out corporal punishments including amputations and floggings.
These actions have been repeatedly condemned by the United Nation’s committee against Torture. Saudi Arabia also engages in capital punishments including public executions by beheading. Beheading is the punishment for murderers, rapists, drug traffickers and armed robbers, according to strict interpretation of Islamic Law.In 2005 there were 191 executions, in 2006 there were 38, in 2007 there were 153, and in 2008 there were 102. .
The government has not set a minimum age for a girls marriage nor has it any ways undertaken measures to put limits to forces and early child marriages. Marriages of Saudi girls as young as 10 to much older men were reported in 2008, although the Human Rights Commission intervened in one such case to delay the marriage for five years.
In a country where female students outnumber men at Universities, It is indeed ironic that the same does not apply to them in the mainstream workforce. They are not allowed to work or study at places which does not have separate female sections.The ministry of justice also denies women the right to become judges or prosecutors.
In contrast the situation is definitely better in terms of political participation and civil liberties in other Gulf countries .In Kuwait for example women gained the right to vote and stand for election in 2005 and last year in a historic electorate elected four female parliamentarians. Oman became the first Gulf country to give its women the right to vote in 1994. Bahrain and Qatar also have some minimal representation of women to public offices. Barring some insignificant transitions to political representation of Women in these countries it still remains an upheaval task for the Human Right and the feminist groups to progress on much of the aforesaid issues.
It’s not uncommon otherwise to come across a Salim or Fatima’s Story somewhere maybe provoking a thought or two in the minds of all those who read it but for the millions of women who continue to bear the brunt of it everyday it’s the life they live everyday……….
 Human Rights Watch” Saudi Arabia, Free Woman who sought court Aid “March 2 2010.
 ["http://thereport.amnesty.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/saudi-arabia#death-penalty" "Amnesty International Report 2009, Saudi Arabia"]. Amnesty International. "http://thereport.amnesty.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/saudi-arabia#death-penalty". Retrieved 2009-08-17.
 Human Rights Watch, report, 2008.