End Corruption and Mysogyny
Oppression, especially when undercover and covert, is often perpetuated in the very places where promises are made to eradicate this social ill: in the halls of government, from the mouths of elected or appointed officials, and in the content of public policy, for example. In Saudi Arabia, women are denied basic rights through customary law, such as the right to drive, a practice that openly designates them as second-class citizens. As the world discovered in April, in Nigeria, young girls are abducted without swift or effective government action.
Looking at these two cases, it seems that when a particular tragedy or injustice affects a group of people in which the vast majority is women, decision makers fail to respond in a timely manner or merely pay lip service to the glaring problem that needs to be expediently addressed. This blatant neglect, which ignores tragedies that violate the human rights of women, contributes to global society’s collective discriminatory thoughts and beliefs against women and reinforces women’s oppression throughout the world. Without enforceable laws abolishing the mistreatment of women globally, and without the help of neighboring countries and communities, these catastrophes will continue to destroy the lives of women and girls.
DISCONNECT BETWEEN POLICY AND ACTION
In 2005, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ascended to the throne of Saudi Arabia. Openly supporting women’s rights reform, King Abdullah, in his first televised interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters, discussed problems affecting women in the Kingdom and his ideas on reform, saying, “I believe the day will come when women drive.” Acknowledging Saudi women’s tremendous impact on their country at the time of his ascension, King Abdullah stated that change for women, however, must be “gradual.” In September 2011, King Abdullah appeared to be honoring his word when he declared that women would have the right to vote in 2015 and to campaign in municipal elections. History was made in January 2013 when women began serving on Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council. Currently, 30 of the 150 members of the advisory council are women
Nine years later, however, King Abdullah’s minimal actions have failed to improve the status and mobility of Saudi women. Discussion of the continued ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia showcases the challenges to women’s rights and the authorities’ overall failure to whittle away at the obstacles to women’s rights in the Kingdom. Interestingly, in Saudi Arabia it is not explicitly illegal for women to drive. Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued license while driving in the country, and since licenses are not issued to women, there is an effective ban on women driving. Some may view this omission as a possible silver lining that allows room for reform; yet, it also makes the issue more difficult to address. The reality remains, however, that the absence of a law, coupled with enforcement of the prohibition, is a blatant violation of the civil rights that Saudi women themselves expect.
As far back as 1990, Saudi women started taking matters into their own hands on the issue of driving, its real-life implications, and its symbolism. Most recently and known throughout the world, women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif sparked a viral online campaign in 2011 when she filmed herself driving in the streets of Saudi Arabia. One fellow protestor, Shaima Jastaina, was sentenced to ten lashes for driving during the Women2Drive Campaign. Despite corporal punishment and intimidation, though, the second Women’s Driving Campaign Day, held on October 26, 2013, marked the continuance of two and a half decades of women’s dissent against the Kingdom’s discriminatory policy on driving toward women. In fact, 18 days before the campaign, three of the newly appointed female Shura Council members, Latifa al-Shaalan, Haya al-Mani, and Muna al-Maslut, filed a recommendation to recognize women’s rights and grant them the freedom to drive.
According to CNN, at least 25 driving Saudi women posted videos on YouTube. Law enforcement officials stopped five women, and some were arrested. Those incarcerated had to pledge not to drive again before they were released. According to an article on Haaretz.com, the October 2013 Women2Drive campaign was carried out peacefully despite the arrest of 14 women protesters. Those who organized in support of women’s mobility mentioned that, “As we expected, women drove peacefully…The campaign will continue to normalize driving in our country, whose laws permit the exercise of this right.”
Thus, Saudi women are unlikely to quit the campaign since it was reported that the participants did not feel threatened by their fellow citizens as they drove. In fact, these Saudi women said men were not violent or hostile, and many men even supported their efforts. While the issue is yet to be resolved, civil actions, such as the driving campaign, have helped to make the issue of gender equality more accessible in the Kingdom.
In the earlier mentioned 2005 interview with Barbara Walters, King Abdullah convincingly spoke as a women’s advocate, saying “I strongly believe in the rights of women… my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, my daughter is a woman, my wife is a woman.” But on March 9, 2014, a story broke that King Abdullah had been forcibly confining four of his daughters for 13 years. Two of the daughters succeeded in contacting The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, pleading for help, which is how the story became public. The princesses—Sahar, Maha, Hala, and Jawaher—range in age from 38 to 42 years old. Speaking to The Sunday Times, Sahar and Jawaher shared, “We slowly watch each other fading into nothingness.”
The King’s ex-wife, Alanoud Al-Fayez, and mother of the captive daughters, has reportedly reached out to media sources throughout the duration of her daughters’ captivity. In this recent exposure of her daughters’ dire situation, she spoke of her concern for her children, particularly the one suffering from extreme psychological issues and anorexia. Al-Fayez lives in London and has attempted to contact anyone she can to receive help. The four princesses are being held in solitary confinement for what they describe as speaking out and living the normal lifestyle of “youngsters.” The King has not released any information countering the claims. From his silence it is clear that he uses the media to propagate an image of women’s inclusion in Saudi Arabian society, but does not personally endorse change. With such a duplicitous king, it seems that the continued efforts of Saudi women, with global support, are the only hope that Saudi women have to enhance women’s rights in the Kingdom.
That being said, I encourage you to join the Saudi Women to Drive Facebook page to support the movement. Submit photos, videos, and tweets in support of Saudi women to: firstname.lastname@example.org. To support the release of the four captive princesses, join the campaign on Twitter by using the hashtag #FreeThe4. Please post any additional sources, as a comment, in which women of Saudi Arabia and people worldwide can partake to continue to advocate for Saudi women’s rights.
TALK OF JUSTICE AGAINST A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Although failing states are usually the locales where extremist groups can thrive (for example Yemen, Syria, and Libya, at present), organized militant groups who use the tactic of oppressing women to gain national and global attention have gained strongholds even in some of the world’s more prosperous countries. This is the case in Nigeria, a country with a rapidly growing economy and recently recognized for this achievement in its hosting of the World Economic Forum on May 6, 2014. Just a few weeks prior to this milestone, however, on April 14, 2014, almost 300 Nigerian girls were abducted from their school in Chibok. Although some of the girls managed to escape, approximately 250 young girls remain in captivity.
BBC News quoted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan saying that, “The kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria.” However, unsuccessful efforts to recover the girls reveal his strange words to be empty and meaningless. Furthermore, the kidnapping of young girls by extremist groups is hardly a novel event in Nigeria. A BBC News article from June 27, 2003, reported on the story of abducted young teenage girls sold into Nigeria’s sex slavery ring. According to the New York Times, in December 2009, Nigeria was a “kidnapping hot spot.” On July 23, 2013, the Official Vatican Network reported that Christian girls were abducted in Nigeria by the same Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, that is currently holding the April 2014 missing girls as hostages. Active since 2002, Boko Haram has a consistent history of kidnapping young girls and selling them.
As the situation has developed to include negotiations and searches to free the girls, spurred by the insistence of outside parties including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel, a salient question arises: Who will eradicate terrorist misogynist groups like Boko Haram?
In the particular case of the missing Nigerian girls, worldwide involvement has exposed the ineffectiveness of an oppressive regime that has failed to control extremist groups within its borders. Arguably, were it not for the large Nigerian population now living in the United States, there would not have been such an outcry in this country, either. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were approximately 55,000 Nigerian-born Americans in 1990 and 153,000 in 2000. In a recent 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are now nearly 275,000 Nigerian-born Americans. The massive influx of Nigerians to the United States since the rise of Boko Haram is likely influencing the united outrage against this catastrophe for girls in Nigeria. As a result, Nigerians are being heard globally rather than in their native country alone, and are rallying support from their fellow citizens to come to the rescue of these girls in their homeland. From this case, it is clear that, in order to eradicate organized terror against women, global involvement is a must.
There are a number of ways to take action and provide your support, like signing the online petition. Also, when advocating through social media accounts, use the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
FINDING A UNIFIED VOICE
In 1976, former U.S. House Representative Barbara Jordan, the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, summarized human equality and advocacy as “equality for all and privileges for none…an obligation to actively seek to remove those obstacles which would block individual achievement, obstacles emanating from race, sex, economic condition. The government must [seek to] remove them.”
Whether or not a ruler openly supports women’s rights but privately opposes women’s liberation, one thing is certain: A united global front of all people, women and men, reinforces and advances women’s demand for recognition of their human rights. Worldwide involvement challenges counterfeit acts of liberation and makes hypocritical leaders accountable to a larger audience. For the sake of women the world over, the time to unite and stand up against injustice is now.