Systematic discrimination against women persists

Human Rights Watch sees Saudi Arabia rather differently from the way the people running the governments and sitting on the thrones do.

King Abdullah’s reign brought about marginal advances for women but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens to free expression, association, and assembly. Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, should halt persecution of peaceful dissidents and religious minorities, end pervasive discrimination against women, and ensure greater protections for migrant workers.

Over King Abdullah’s nine-and-a-half year rule, reform manifested itself chiefly in greater tolerance for a marginally expanded public role for women, but royal initiatives were largely symbolic and produced extremely modest concrete gains.

And that’s in a place where women are treated like disease-ridden vaginas – alluring and filthy, with no brain and no rights.

Early in his reign, King Abdullah promoted modernization of Saudi Arabia’s state apparatus, making it more efficient and transparent; encouraged a modest public re-evaluation of the enforced subservient status of women and religious minorities; allowed greater debate in the media; and promoted some degree of judicial fairness. After 2011, the authorities subordinated the king’s reform agenda to a campaign to silence peaceful dissidents and activists who called for religious tolerance and greater respect for human rights.

King Salman should take steps to prohibit discrimination against women and religious minorities and institute protections for free speech. A significant first step would be to repeal vague legislation used to prosecute Saudis for peaceful speech and create a written penal code that includes comprehensive human rights protections. He should also order the immediate release of Saudi citizens jailed solely for calling for political reform.

Nonsense. Look at all the tributes to Abdullah pouring in from the heads of state. Obviously there’s no need to improve anything, or they would have mentioned it.

The most concrete gains for women under King Abdullah included opening up new employment sectors for women. In February 2013, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, a consultative body that produces recommendations for the cabinet.

Systematic discrimination against women persists, however. Authorities have not ended the discriminatory male guardianship system. Under this system, ministerial policies and practices forbid bar women from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. Employers can still require male guardians to approve the hiring of adult female relatives and some hospitals to require male guardian approval for certain medical procedures for women. Women remain forbidden barred from driving in Saudi Arabia, and authorities have arrested women who dared challenge the driving ban. [tweaks mine]

The place is a nightmare for women, and for men who think women are human beings. Abdullah’s death doesn’t change that, not even for a few days.


  1. says

    women are treated like disease-ridden vaginas – alluring and filthy, with no brain and no rights

    Brains are OK. Saudi has one of the highest percentages of women with advanced degrees, because citizens get free education at exclusive universities set up by the monarchy. So, there are apparently tons of well-educated and highly intelligent women — they’d just have no rights and are otherwise sequestered.

    They take the interpretation of gender separation very seriously – which is one of the things that has been used to fairly consistently defeat attempts to get women into the work force. When Iw as there, the CEO of the company I was working for said that he had been looking into getting a floor of the building set up as a women-only area, so that he could hire a few. Because of Saudi laws regarding citizen employment this is a big deal: anyone doing business in Saudi has to have a certain percentage of citizen employees. So, basically, foreign businesses operating in Saudi get saddled with a bunch of useless wealthy slackabouts – it’s a guaranteed jobs program for the sons of the oligarchy. And, right there, that ought to tell you everything you need to understand about the kind of resistance employing women would face. (You can tell the Saudi citizen employees because, often, they are the guys who put in a hard 2 hour day bullshitting with co-workers, then go home tired, feeling productive) It’s always such a coincidence that the underlying economics of male dominance always seem to match the political and religious ideologies, isn’t it?

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