Equality in Saudi Arabia

I’m in Saudi again. In case you think stories about the place of women in the Kingdom are exaggerated, here are three items culled from the local newspapers in only two days.

Women no longer need identifiers at Saudi courts
The Supreme Judicial Council has decided that Saudi women no longer need to have males identify them at court hearings and would only require their identity cards. This isn’t primarily about cases involving sexual assault; the most significant aspect has to do with inheritance. It was not enough for a woman to turn up at court, present her ID card and say, “I’m Fatima X”—a man had to say, “Yes, she is Fatima X” and, not infrequently, he would say “No, she is not Fatima X” even though she was. The man in question would be her brother, he would have brought along his wife and he would point at her and say, “This is Fatima X” and the court was bound to accept that because he was a man and his evidence was therefore worth hearing while hers was not. The brother’s wife would then say that she felt her late father had been far too generous in dividing his estate equally between his two children and she would only feel comfortable if the court overruled the will and gave her “brother” the lion’s share of the inheritance while giving her the minimum the law permitted—“10% sounds about right”. The woman was in this way cheated out of her money. Now the SJC has decided that this behaviour is unfair. The decision is being hailed as a demonstration of the fairness with which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia treats half its population.

On death row for sorcery, maid spared by king
Do you believe in witchcraft? Me neither. But Ali binti Abeh Inan, an Indonesian woman from an impoverished region of Sukabumi in West Java who worked in KSA as a housemaid, was sentenced to death for using black magic against the Saudi family that employed her. How did the court know she had used sorcery? Well, her employer said so—and he is both a man and a Saudi while she is a woman and a foreigner, so obviously we believe him. Don’t we? Now the king has pardoned her, she has gone home to Indonesia and a spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh has expressed “its gratitude to King Abdullah and to authorities in Saudi Arabia for their cooperation in releasing Ali.”

Women’s visits to hospitals without male guardians banned
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia, but generally known as the Religious Police) has officially prevented women from visiting medical clinics without male guardians. A guardian can only be the next of kin—son, grandson, husband, brother, father or uncle. The ruling came after Qais Al-Mubarak, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said “Unaccompanied visits by women to male doctors can have negative implications. Islamic law does not permit women to visit their doctors without male guardians. Women are prohibited from exposing body parts to male doctors, especially during childbirth.”  But the fatwa extends way beyond gynae wards—a nutrition centre has been forbidden to see women unless a guardian is with them. What’s that you say, lady? You’re ill and your husband is on a business trip outside the Kingdom? Die, baby, die. Seems to me that’s a negative implication right there—but I’m a foreigner and a woman, too, so wtf do I know?

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