“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief.” – UN Watch Director Hillel Neuer.
Western Betrayal of Women
Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country with national laws based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Women do not have freedom or equality. Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights in the UN sends the message that the United Nations doesn’t really care about women’s rights. It is an absolute betrayal of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia and indeed worldwide.
Sweden takes a stand
Despite this, at least five European countries voted for Saudi Arabia! This sparked a firestorm in Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. Opposition MPs demanded to know how their governments voted. The Belgium Prime Minister admitted that Sweden actually voted for Saudi Arabia. He publicly regretted it. But his words are hollow. Sweden preaches morality, values, feminism and women’s rights to the world. Yet they still vote for Saudi Arabia? They know how horrible Saudi Arabia is with protecting women’s rights. This vote is a calculated move.
Does the Swedish PM regret the Swedish vote? Or does he just regret being exposed and having to face the backlash against Swedish hypocrisy?
The status of some Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia
Just recently, Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive! This is progress, but we are in the year 2018! Better late than never, but let’s get some perspective about who we are dealing with. Western countries still voted for this country to protect women’s rights in 2018?
Examples of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia today
1. Saudi women must have a male guardian, called a “wali.” A wali is typically a father, brother, uncle or husband.
They must obtain permission from their guardian in order to travel or obtain a passport or sign a contract etc.
The system makes it “nearly impossible” for victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse to obtain legal redress. Why? Because the police often insist that women and girls obtain their guardian’s authorization to file a complaint. This is even when the complaint is against the guardian himself.
2. Women are forbidden to wear clothes or make-up that “show off their beauty.” The Saudi government implements dress laws for women based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
3. Women are required to limit the amount of time they spend with men to whom they are not related. The majority of public buildings, including offices, banks and universities, have separate entrances for the different sexes.
4. Saudi women are only allowed to swim in female-only pools or spas.
Times are Changing
The challenge for Saudi Arabia is the clash of strict religious teachings with modernity. As the new driving law exhibits, things are slowly beginning to modernize.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s most gender-segregated nation. However, changes are well under way. In another decade or two, odds are that the country will look very different than it does today. National Geographic says, “Multiple generations of women are debating how to be truly modern and truly Saudi.”
One Saudi royal advisor, Hanan Al-Ahmadi, confirms that a transformation of women’s rights is currently under way.
Al-Ahmadi emphasized that “we need to be able to create this change gradually and maintain our identity.”
Change is Welcome
This current direction of improvement of women’s rights is definitely a sign of progress. However, it by no means justifies that Saudi Arabia ought to be in a position that protects women’s rights around the world.