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Saudi Primitivia Opens A Tiny Door For Women
Saudi women are gleeful not to be barred from every sector of their primitive society. Karen Elliot House writes in The Wall $treet Journal that Saudi Arabia has, for the first time, allowed its third-class citizens (women) to enroll in law school:

In a country famous for not letting women drive or reveal their faces in public, the change has some young female students almost giddy with optimism.

..."We are going to help women know their rights," adds her classmate Sara Alayyaf, 19, looking like an American college girl in tennis shoes with no laces. "Everything is going to change."

It can't change soon enough for Fatima Mansour. While the young law students in Riyadh live their dream, Ms. Mansour sits in jail in the city of Dammam with her 1-year-old son, caught in a Saudi Catch-22.

After her father died a few years ago, Ms. Mansour's half-brothers declared themselves her guardians, even though she was married. They accused her husband of lying to the family about his tribal background before the marriage. As her guardians, they took her to Islamic court and persuaded a judge to force her to divorce her husband.

He has the couple's other child, a 4-year-old daughter, and Ms. Mansour wants to rejoin him. But to do so, now that they have been divorced, would make her guilty of adultery, a grievous crime here. She refuses to go back to the home occupied by the half-brothers who ended her marriage, and there is no other place for the court to send a woman for her protection. So even though there are no charges against the 33-year-old Ms. Mansour, she waits in jail, caught in a system that seems to offer her no escape other than going to her half-brothers, who she fears might kill her.

...As Saudi society tiptoes gingerly into the 21st century, its women remain largely left behind, in a system that tightly limits their independence under the rubric of protecting them. That said, a monthlong visit here finds mounting pressures for liberalization, pockets of surprising change, and optimism, perhaps naive, among younger women that their lives will be far freer.

...Saudi women pressing for change focus chiefly on increasing career opportunities, not on challenging this sex separation. In practical terms, this means persuading workplaces to establish separate sections for women.

"The issue isn't about working so much as creating the proper protected environment in which women can work," says Haifa Jamalallail, dean of Effat College in Jidda, named for a queen who helped bring girls' education to the kingdom in the 1960s.

King Abdullah issued a royal decree last year that women must be encouraged to work in all fields. The decree said government ministries should form women's sections, so that women can represent themselves at government offices rather than have a brother or father or husband do so. So, it is seen as progress here that women now can work as salespeople at Al Faisaliah Mall, a sprawling three-story shopping center in Riyadh, even though they're confined to a floor for women shoppers only.

Posted by aalkon at April 8, 2007 6:53 AM

Comments

Fatima's half-brothers are completely focussed on the bottom line in this situation. What else would motivate them to force a divorce, if not some monetary motivation? If she can't work, she must be able to inherit property, which is why they wanted her husband out of the picture. And since they want to kill her means they want her inheritance or just that they don't want to pay to feed her.

Why should women bother working if their husbands/fathers/brothers will just take the money and spend it on booze & hookers?

Posted by: Chrissy at April 8, 2007 8:57 AM

Women in that society have the status of pets in ours, or close to it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 9:09 AM

"Pets" is still giving too much credit. I'd say women there are regarded more as livestock.

Posted by: deja pseu at April 8, 2007 10:01 AM

In some cases they are in worse positions than pets. This is what your life would be like in Saudi Arabia: silence and complete obedience.

Of all the places, I hated the Kingdom the most. I couldn't live there and always felt bad for US women who served on the military bases. Especially, the officers who had to have a fellow male officer or a male non com escort them everywhere when leaving the bases. Talk about a challenge to the military ranking system. A female officer would be the superior of a male non com on the base. Outside the base, the roles would be in reverse.

I would recommend Fatna Sabbah's "Woman in the Muslim Unconscious", on how women in the M.E. have to dehumanize themselves just in order to survive. Unfortunately, the English translation is out of print, but anyone can find used copies for sale online. The French translation is still in circulation and my personal copy is in Arabic. A very rare translation.

Posted by: Joe at April 8, 2007 1:20 PM

Amy, if the authorities know that pets here are being treated in the way that women commonly are in Saudi Arabia, they generally step in and do something. If an officially sanctioned group here refused to let pets leave a burning building because the pets didn't have the correct collars on, that group would be publicly excoriated, lose their jobs, and be the target of criminal charges. Pets in the U.S., IMHO, are, on average, accorded more true consideration and caring than are women in Saudi Arabia.

I have my issues with the U.S., but there is not a day that I am not glad that I was born here...instead of, among other countries, Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: marion at April 8, 2007 4:03 PM

f an officially sanctioned group here refused to let pets leave a burning building because the pets didn't have the correct collars on,

Hmmm...very good point. Okay, I'd rather be a dog in the U.S. than a woman in Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 8, 2007 4:15 PM

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