Sexual Segregation and Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia
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The common legal empowerment of men and women (usually at age 18) to make autonomous decisions is absent in Saudi Arabia. The well established system of male guardianship offers little authority to the women of Saudi Arabia. The denial of this fundamental right to decide for oneself is based on restrictive interpretations of ambiguous Quranic verse.
The guardianship policy requires all Saudi Arabian women to obtain permission from their guardians (husbands, brothers, fathers or sons) in order to work, travel, study, and marry. The fact that adult women are treated as minors disables them to make even the most trivial decisions concerning their own children. Social workers, physicians and lawyers emphasized the near impossibility of removing this policy, even in cases of abusive male guardians, in a Human Rights Watch report of April 2008.
The implementation of male guardianship has become so strong that even in cases where permission is not mandatory or stipulated by law, women are still being required to show guardian's consent, as the practice assumes women's minority.
Despite the governments recent positive steps to decrease the absolute power of guardians, little has changed for women in Saudi Arabia. As of recently, women over age 45 are allowed to travel without permission, yet airport officials continue to demand a guardian's consent. According to the same Human Rights Watch report of 2008 the government has done little to end the ongoing discrimination while simultaneously playing an important role in enforcing it.
In addition, the notion of sexual segregation adds even more difficulties to the lives of women and disables them to participate in public life. In 2005 the country held its first municipal elections but simultaneously failed to provide a sufficient amount of voting booths for women, thus, excluding them from political participation. In the private sector, employers avoid hiring women as a provision of separate work spaces is stipulated by law.
Similar disadvantages can be found an in academic perspective were schools and academic institutions for women are inferior and offer unequal opportunities.
Law and Religion
The government's practice of male guardianship is a direct violation of international laws but also an indication of ignorance of Islamic legal tradition, that supports equality between men and women. The chosen interpretations of the Quran are restrictive rather than progressive and fail to consider the needs of a modernizing society. Even though the government of Saudi Arabia is obliged to follow the CEDAW protocol as of 2001, the government's commitment is doubted by the international community.