Forget being allowed to drive – life for women in Saudi is hell
SAUDI Arabia, the only country where women are forbidden from driving, is now lifting the ban. By June 2018, all Saudi women will be allowed to drive a car.
But should we be tooting our horns in celebration at this benevolent act by King Salman? Well, yes. But perhaps not just yet. Cynics may be forgiven for thinking that this announcement is nothing but a diversion from the many problems that beset the Kingdom. Oil revenue is down and, with electric cars just around the corner, the future for oil exports does not look good.
Equally, if not more significant, the acts of terror that the Kingdom is inflicting on neighbouring Yemeni civilians is causing human rights groups to urge an inquiry into Saudi abuses.
But these are not the only things that are causing international concern. Other longstanding issues include restrictions on freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests and detention, discrimination of minorities, migrant workers’ rights and, of course, women’s rights.
Young girls and women continue to face discrimination in law and in daily reality. If you happen to be female, there is little protection against sexual and other forms of violence. Under Saudi law, women remain subordinate and inferior in status compared to men. Women cannot easily access education, take paid employment, and lose out when faced with divorce and inheritance. Until the Royal decree comes into force next year, they also remain banned from driving.
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled according to Sharia law, and the Royal decree stipulates that the new rules must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards”. These laws, based on Saudi Arabia’s rigid Wahabi strain of Sunnism, which are in direct conflict with the values of basic human rights. As well as prescribing extreme and cruel punishments such as stoning, flogging, amputation and public hanging, Sharia also rules that apostates should be killed.
Women are treated by Sharia as inferior to men, with fewer rights in divorce cases (in effect, only men can start divorce proceedings and they are always given custody of children) and over inheritance rights. Sharia is an oppressive system and conflicts with the Koran, the book Muslims believe to be the verbatim word of God.
The Koran does not give rites and rituals but core values that raise the measure of human behaviour. In verse 33:35, the Koran is explicit that both men and women who live by high standards of personal probity are of equal worth and says: “God prepared for them a great recompense.” Also in verses 3:145, 4:124 and 16:97 the equality of men and women is made clear.
In complete contrast to Sharia law, the Koran decrees in verses 24:6-10, that when accused of adultery, a wife’s testimony should have greater standing than her husband’s testimony.
In contrast, Sharia is based on a corpus of works known as Hadith, and attributed to Muhammad, but in fact was written around 200 years after his death. While Muslims hold the Koran as the absolute authority, in practice it is the Sharia they turn to – simply because the authorities who impose it severely punish those who challenge it.
IT is Sharia law, for example, that allows brides to be as young as six. In no civilised society could a child be considered to have the mental capacity to consent to her marriage or mature enough for consensual sex of any description. However, the Sharia allows this – even though it is against the Koranic principles and laws for marriage.
In Saudi, Hadith and Sharia take precedence over the Koran and is the reason why child marriages are permitted – Saudi has no minimum age for marriage. It was only in early September that some Saudi sheiks were arrested in Hyderabad, India, trying to buy child brides.
The Koran, in verse 2:221, permits marriage only between sincere and conscientious people with the same high principles of integrity. How can a child understand, let alone implement such values decreed? Furthermore, the Koran says that marriage is a contract; to understand this commitment, the maturity and responsibility required for marriage as stated in verse 4:6 cannot be expected of a six-year-old.
If the Saudi kingdom truly wants to be an exemplary Islamic country then it should have the Koran and not the Sharia as its driving force, which would form a platform to bring their domestic laws into line with international humanitarian laws.
It is this that will give Saudi women, and the Saudi people, all the rights that they deserve and which are long overdue.
Saudi justice: a woman gang-raped by seven men is punished with a public flogging, and later jailed