In my previous post I mentioned Dr. Fawzia al-Bakr as one of the people who told their stories to Robert Lacey in his new book. Al-Bakr is one of the 47 women who defied the ban on women’s driving and drove their cars in the middle of Riyadh’s busiest streets in a rare demonstration to demand their rights. That was in 1990. How things have changed since then? I will leave it to al-Bakr to tell you. This strong article was published in the conservative Al-Jazirah daily two weeks ago and slipped seemingly unnoticed when everyone was busy with the attack on Al-Watan website.
Can you put yourself in a woman’s shoes for one day?
By Dr. Fawzia Al-Bakr
I was standing in front of the cashier as I was returning some of the garments, which I tried yesterday evening at home, but none did fit me properly. I had to go home and return to the shop just to use the fitting room. I suddenly realised how many things there are we are so used to do that we forgot how they are done in the first place. Our life has been stolen from us by forcing us into small details, without us even being aware.
Fitting rooms have disappeared from shops; there are only very small windows to allow us to talk to tailors. Limited television broadcasting of lectures at universities, rude male guards with specific characteristics and age requirements at the entrance of every official institution for women to regulate going in and coming out; the only exception being cars of the institution that pick up young women according to the type of cloak and the amount of skin showing at the moment that a woman happens to come out of her work, university or shops. Explicit signs in hair salons, video shops and every place of entertainment or thinking, which ban women from entering. Restaurant that resemble inquisition courts checking if women are chaperoned by unmarriageable men.
It is a world of fear, anxiety and doubt where woman born here or happened to come here, live. They have put all of us a cloth of the original sin and begun chasing us and held the entire society accountable to the extent that we lost the ability to distinguish between what is right and just and what is part of the unjust and unfair traditions, which the militias of the Awakening movement (or better said, “dormancy”) have institutionalised in our life, our schools, our universities, our markets and our hospitals to the extent that it looks as if this is how our life should be while it should no. Even going to mosques is subject to specific traditions and clothes.
Even our relation to the Grand Mosque Alharam has been modified according to their point of view; so they have restricted us to limited areas. Also, the oblivious women in our mosques, schools, workplaces and wedding halls have begun implementing men’s policies which are based on one thing: women are different creatures: intellectually inferior and incapable of controlling and protecting themselves from their owner, the man. We can use less cruel expressions and avoid using words with connotations to slavery, which human civilisations have since long rejected and which have not been used in Saudi Arabia since the Sixties when the Kingdom officially abolished slavery.
However, the men of the Awakening movement have managed, with an exceptional social ingenuity, to replace these expressions with complexly regulated and institutionalised forms of enslavement. The visible shackles might have disappeared, but the official enslavement and restrictions still exist, so do the documents women need to go anywhere in this ugly world of trivialities.
I wish any man could experience these restrictions just for a while so that he can understand what it means to be enslaved by another man who dominates him and controls his destiny, his study, his work, his children, his subsistence and his documents as he wishes. Women’s destiny is dependent on the man’s goodness and generosity; if he is good and decent, she is they are protected; but if he is morally sick or of unsound mind, then they have no consolation.
Today we are waking up and we have to wake up because there is no room for the dichotomy between owner and owned, the capable and the powerless, and master and slave. Saudi Arabia has ratified the CEDAW Convention which rejects all forms of discrimination against women, and King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Custodian of the Two Holy mosques,has yesterday announced the start of an official campaign to raise awareness of human rights and implement this philosophy in different institutions such as schools, universities, the workplace and amusement places. So, here we are, and we want the men and society who are looking for the truth to know that women are more entitled to these rights which Islam has granted them a long time ago; until the Awakening militias came and deeply eroded this society and distorted our lives and roles, and locked us into a vicious cycle.
Every woman and every honorable man, who believes in human and religious rights of women, should become aware of these small details affecting every aspect of women’s lives and treat them as an inferior species. So, they are continuously confronted with male chauvinism despite claims of newspapers that Saudi women have achieved great progress.
However, putting oneself in a woman’s shoes for even one day to experience the males’ injustice at work (be it educational, financial or commercial institutions) will reveal just how flagrant these small details are and how women are treated as an inferior species. This male’s injustice is not necessarily an intentional act, but is the result of a year-long conditioning of a sick mentality of how men and women see each other and what they expect from each other in terms of roles and capabilities.
These expectations have distorted the way they see each other: they caused men to see women according to certain stereotypes based on women being mentally deficient and incapable of controlling themselves, and caused women to see men as a superior rational being, capable of taking the right decisions because women are seen as emotionally incapable. This distorted way men and women conceive each has prevented women from recognizing their real potential as human being; the result is that they believe they are inadequate. On its turn, this belief has created these twisted female psyches, which are incapable of functioning normally and without preconceived judgments.
Everyone who is concerned with the sanity of this country should investigate these trivialities that treat women as an inferior species and govern women’s institutions. This in order to dismantle them and see the extent to which they affect women’s chances of education and jobs at all levels, and start thinking about the psychological and mental damage caused to women by this dark and gloomy life that prevented them and men from seeing the truth about life and themselves as a complete and competent human beings, capable, all human beings, of good and evil, knowledge and ignorance and right and wrong.
The damage caused by this inferior view of women and the way this view has been turned into and accepted behavior by social institutions, does not only affect women but the entire society. This society is now paying the toll for enslaving women, who, on their turn, produce masters and slaves in the magic factory that is the family and distribute the roles between boys and girls, thinking they are doing the right thing, but they are unaware of the danger of the reproducing factories where they are contributing to their enslavement.
It is time for women to raise their voices and break free from this big prison by adhering to this good leadership which is ahead of its time and which tresses the right of all people to live as equal citizens having full competence, regardless of gender.
Special thanks to the good people at Meedan for translating the article.