In the fifth instalment in our human rights series, Lynn Rickard looks at women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
In 2018 we celebrate 100 years since Irish women were awarded the right to vote. In recognising our progress as a nation, we must also recognise nations who are not afforded the same women’s rights.
In today’s instalment we take a look at Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; focusing in on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia, how far they have come and how far they have left to endure.
Though women in Saudi Arabia recently won the right to drive, according to Amnesty International gender based discrimination remains prominent across the MENA region “notably in matters of marriage and divorce, inheritance and child custody”. As it stands, women in Saudi Arabia require a male guardian’s consent in order to travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry. Amnesty International notes that some women experiencing “gender based violence” are also forced into early marriage.
The Amnesty International Report 2011 noted the case of a 12-year-old girl whose father had forcibly married her to an 80-year-old man for money. Amnesty says local human rights activists highlighted the case and resulted in the girl obtaining a divorce in February 2012.
A 2010 Report by Freedom House explains that gender inequality is built into Saudi Arabia’s governmental and social structures, and is “integral to the country’s state supported interpretation of Islam, which is derived from a literal reading of the Koran and Sunna”. As a result work opportunities for women remain limited with women being employed in single-sex institutions such as education or health care.
Although discrimination against women and girls in Saudi Arabia is prevalent slight changes “in accordance with Islamic law standards” provide a beacon of hope for all women and girls within this region. In a report, Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry announced in July a change in Saudi girls’ public schools. The announcement outlined that from the beginning of fall 2017 certain schools will offer a physical education program during their school term. However, it is not known whether the girls have to get parental permission to enrol.
It may seem that Saudi women and girls’ rights are improving ever so slightly but radical results are yet to be observed as heavy gender based and religious restrictions prevail.