By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
LONDON, England – An April 21 report released by Human Rights Watch alleges that Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship of women and sex segregation policies prevent women from enjoying their basic rights. The 50 page report, “Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia,” documents the effects of these discriminatory policies and draws on more than 100 interviews with Saudi women.
Human Rights Watch said that the Saudi government treats adult women as legal minors who are not in control of their own well-being. The group said that Saudi women must often obtain permission from a guardian (a father, husband or even a son) to work, travel, marry or even access health care.
“The Saudi government sacrifices basic human rights to maintain male control over women,” said Farida Deif, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi women won’t make any progress until the government ends the abuses that stem from these misguided policies.”
The report claims that Saudi women are prevented from accessing government agencies without a male representative unless the agency has established a female section. According to the report, the need for separate office spaces provides a disincentive to hiring female employees.
The report also alleges that even when no permission from a guardian is required, some officials will ask for it. Despite national regulations to the contrary, some hospitals require a guardian’s permission to allow women to be admitted, agree to medical procedures for themselves or their children, or be discharged.
Male guardianship over adult women also contributes to their risk of exposure to violence within the family as victims of violence find it difficult to seek protection or redress from the courts. The report says that social workers, physicians and lawyers say that it is nearly impossible to remove guardianship from male guardians who are abusive.
“It’s astonishing that the Saudi government denies adult women the right to make decisions for themselves but holds them criminally responsible for their actions at puberty,” Deif said. “For Saudi women, reaching adulthood brings no rights, only responsibilities.”
For more information, please see:
ABC – Saudi Women ‘Kept in Childhood’ – 21 April 2008
BBC – Saudi Women ‘Kept in Childhood’ – 21 April 2008
Human Rights Watch – Saudi Arabia: Male Guardianship Policies Harm Women – 21 April 2008
Human Rights Watch Report – Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia – 21 April 2008