October 24, 2013

SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Authorities Issue Warning Ahead Of Women Driving Campaign Scheduled On October 26th; Women Are Banned From Driving.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia are defined by Sunni Islam and tribal customs. The Arabian peninsula is the ancestral home of patriarchal, nomadic tribes, in which separation of women and men and namus (honour) are considered central.

1 Mobility: Women's freedom of movement is very limited in Saudi Arabia. They are not supposed to leave their houses or their local neighborhood without the permission of their male guardian, and company of a mahram (close male relative). However, out of necessity most women leave the house alone and often have contact with unrelated men to shop or conduct business.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, although it is often tolerated in rural areas. Saudi Arabia has no written ban on women driving, but Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued license while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, thus making it effectively illegal for women to drive. Furthermore, most Saudi scholars and religious authorities have declared women driving haram (forbidden).Commonly given reasons for the prohibition on women driving include:

1. Driving a car involves uncovering the face.
2. Driving a car may lead women to go out of the house more often.
3. Driving a car may lead women to have interaction with non-mahram males, for example at traffic accidents.
4. Women driving cars may lead to overcrowding the streets and many young men may be deprived of the opportunity to drive.
5. Driving would be the first step in an erosion of traditional values, such as gender segregation.

Women are generally discouraged from using public transport. It is technically forbidden, but unenforced, for women to take taxis or hire private drivers, as it results in khalwa (illegal mixing with a non-mahram man).[83] Women have limited access to bus and train services. Where it is allowed, they must use a separate entrance and sit in a back section reserved for women. But the bus companies with the widest coverage in Riyadh and Jeddah do not allow women at all.

2 Hijab: Hijab is a tradition practiced by many in the Arab world, in which women are socially segregated or secluded.

The mutaween, particularly active in Riyadh, Buraydah and Tabuk, can detain Saudis who violate religious law. Women can be charged with prostitution for socializing with a man who is not a relative.

3 Male guardian: Under Saudi law, all females must have a male guardian, typically a father, brother or husband. The guardian has duties to, and rights over, the woman in many aspects of civic life. A United Nations Special Rapporteur report states that “legal guardianship of women by a male, is practised in varying degrees and encompasses major aspects of women's lives. The system is said to emanate from social conventions, including the importance of protecting women, and from religious precepts on travel and marriage, although these requirements were arguably confined to particular situations.” Depending on the guardian, women may need their guardian's permission for: marriage and divorce; travel, if under 45; education; employment; opening a bank account; elective surgery, particularly when sexual in nature. The official law, if not the custom, requiring a guardian's permission for a woman to seek employment was repealed in 2008.

Guardianship requirements are not written law. They are applied according to the customs and understanding of particular officials and institutions (hospitals, police stations, banks, etc.). Official transactions and grievances initiated by women are often abandoned because officers, or the women themselves, believe they need authorization from the woman's guardian. Officials may demand the presence of a guardian if a woman cannot show an ID card or is fully covered. These conditions make complaints against the guardians themselves extremely difficult.

4 Namus: Male guardianship is closely related to namus (or "sharaf" in a Bedouin context), roughly translated as "honour". It also carries connotations of modesty and respectability. The namus of a male includes the protection of the females in his family. He provides for them, and in turn the women's honour (sometimes called "ird") reflects on him. Namus is a common feature of many different patriarchal societies.

Since the namus of a male guardian is affected by that of the women under his care, he is expected to control their behavior. If their honour is lost, in the eyes of the community he has lost control of them. Threats to chastity, in particular, are threats to the namus of the male guardian.

Namus is associated with honor killing. If a man loses namus because of a woman in his family, he may attempt to cleanse his honour by punishing her. In extreme cases, the punishment can be death. The suspicion alone of a woman's wrongdoing can be enough for her to be subject to violence in the name of honour.

In 2007, a young woman was murdered by her father for chatting with a man on Facebook. The case attracted a lot of media attention. Conservatives called for the government to ban Facebook, because it incites lust and causes social strife by encouraging gender mingling.

5 Sex segregation: Sexual segregation which keeps wives, sisters and daughters from contact with stranger men, follows from the extreme concern for female purity and family honour. Social events are largely predicated on the separation of men and women; the mixing of non-kin men and women at parties or the like is extremely rare and limited to some of the modernist Western-educated families.

Most Saudi homes have one entrance for men and another for women. For non-related males to enter the female sections of a Saudi home is a violation of family honour. The Arab word for the secluded section of the house is harim which means at once 'forbidden' and 'sacred'. Private space is associated with women while the public space, such as the living room, is reserved for men. Traditional house designs also use high walls, compartmentalized inner rooms, and curtains to protect the family and particularly women from the public.

Moreover, sex segregation is expected in public. Since the public sphere of life is the domain of men, women are expected to veil outside the secluded areas of their homes. Non-mahram women and men must minimize social interaction. Companies traditionally have been expected to create all-female areas if they hire women. Public transportation is segregated. Public places such as beaches and amusement parks are also segregated, sometimes by time, so that men and women attend at different hours. Violation of the principles of sex segregation is known as khalwa.

Segregation is particularly strict in restaurants, since eating requires removal of the veil. Most restaurants in Saudi Arabia have "family" and "bachelor" sections, the latter for unmarried men or men without a family to accompany. Women or men with their families have to sit in the family section. In the families section, diners are usually seated in separate rooms or behind screens and curtains. Waiters are expected to give time for women to cover up before entering, although this practice is not always followed. Restaurants typically bar entrance to women who come without their husbands or mahram, although if they are allowed in, it will be to the family section. Women are barred from waitressing, except at a few women-only restaurants.

6 Public education: Public education in Saudi Arabia is sex-segregated at all levels, and in general females and males do not attend the same school. Moreover, male teachers are not permitted to teach or work at girls' schools and women are not allowed to teach male children.

Al Arabiya news, Saudi Arabia
written by Staff
Thursday October 24, 2013

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry has warned against “disturbing social peace” ahead of a planned campaign by women to challenge a de facto ban on them driving.

“Regulations in Saudi Arabia prohibit any action that disturbs social peace and opens the door for sedition and responds to the illusions of prejudiced intruders with sick dreams,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

“The Interior Ministry confirms to all that the concerned authorities will enforce the law against all the violators with firmness and force,” the statement added.

The warning also appeared directed at those calling on the social media to stop women if seen driving in the streets.

The “October 26 Driving” campaign has asked Saudis to put its logo on their cars and called upon women with international driving licenses to get behind the wheel that day, while urging other women to learn to drive, according to Reuters.

The warning comes after a number of clerics and religious scholars protested in Jeddah, saying the authorities were doing nothing to stop women defying the ban, Associated Press reported.

There is no specific law preventing women from driving in the kingdom, but they cannot apply for driving licenses.

Supporters of women driving say the ban is an extra cost for families who have to employ chauffeurs and add that it makes it difficult for women to perform basic daily tasks.

The Saudi Shura Council this month rejected a move by three female members to put the ban on women driving up for discussion.

The Council, which counts 30 women among its 150 members, said the issue was “irrelevant” to the discussions and “not within the transport ministry’s remit.”

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