A few days ago a court in Saudi Arabia convicted four young men for "violating public morals". One of them was dancing naked on top of a car. His sentence? He was condemned to 10 years in prison, and punished with 2,000 lashes. Now, I'm not condoning their behavior, which was inappropriately wild at best. Nevertheless, I'm not sure whipping and giving jail time for such infractions are appropriate either. This is Saudi Arabia, and when it comes to respecting human rights, this country isn't exactly a role model. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia has decreased its tolerance toward the manifestation of dissent, and any type of civil opposition to the regime has been quickly silenced. Last week prominent human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair was arrested by Saudi authorities for "hosting unauthorized meetings with reformists" and "disrespecting the judiciary system", which to me sounds like an obvious denial of the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
Limitation of freedom in Saudi Arabia is emphasized when you happen to be a woman. Although the regime prides itself of providing both genders with equal opportunities, it's undeniable that women in this country are hindered in their ability to make their own choices, in their professional development, and in the pursue of their independence. I won't deny that Saudi Arabia recently passes a legislation approving more rigorous penalties for physical and sex offenders. However, domestic violence goes widely unreported in this country, and many activists already question the effectiveness of such law. Last April I described in this article some of the reasons why the World Economic Forum 2012 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 131st out of 135 countries for gender parity. "Saudi women are heavily discriminated, and continue to suffer the repression of a chauvinistic culture that has been going on uninterrupted for centuries. In order for a Saudi woman to study in a university, owe a business, or even travel abroad, she needs the approval of a male guardian who acts as she were a minor. Although this is not legally required, officials still demand it, and women end up depending on their guardians' authorization. While men are legally allowed to practice polygamy, women are punished by being stoned to death."
If you are a woman in Saudi Arabia you are not even allowed to drive a car. This is the only country on Earth that still has such a ridiculous and unacceptable law. There's a civil rights movement growing all over the world asking the Saudi government to lift the unreasonable ban, but so far nothing has changed. This is another crystal clear limitation of their freedom, and many women in Saudi Arabia are currently campaigning for their right to be treated equally. Whatever reason the government has not to abrogate this legislation, they are demanding an answer, and since there's no justification, they were told that "women who drive cars could cause damage to their ovaries and pelvises, and they are at risk of having children born with clinical problems", CNN reports. Are you serious?!
I don't mean to know everything about Saudi culture, but I do know that women's rights in this country are being violated every day. Most perpetrators go unpunished, most crimes unreported, and most victims never rescued. There's to hope that with more people sharing on social media their stories, more organizations will be able to reach further into Saudi Arabia's society, and provide support to the countless women who find themselves repressed. The following is a brilliant example.
Women's Annex is a company working to promote female empowerment for women in Afghanistan. Completely self-sustaining, Women's Annex is branch of Film Annex, a digital platform for independent filmmakers to showcase their work worldwide. While Film Annex has been building Internet classrooms in Afghanistan, Women's Annex has been tirelessly working to improve the lifestyle of Afghan women, fighting for their right to receive justice for the violations they have experienced. The organization is built on a website to post blogs that allows users to submit stories about their lives, and it helps women in two ways. First, it gives them the opportunity to write about their experiences, and denounce the people who hurt them without the fear of retaliation. Second, by writing social media blogs, they earn money online, because Film Annex monetarily rewards their work. As a consequence, the writers get one step closer to financial independence, the lack of which is what prevents them from leaving their home in first place. All these story represent the core of Women's Annex's social media campaign, and provide other women with the motivation and support they need to make that crucial step forward in their lives.
Women's Annex is working hard to reach every woman in need, including those living in Saudi Arabia. However, without any constructive collaboration with the Saudi government, it will be a long and difficult task. As I wrote 6 months ago, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a wealthy and developed nation. It possesses enough resources to guarantee freedom and independence to every Saudi Arabian. Yet, women are still regarded - and treated - as second class citizens. Change could - and should - start with a progressive education, but Saudi women are still forbidden from studying subjects like engineering, journalism, architecture and law. Moreover, change won't be possible without a more democratic vision of society. Today Saudi Arabia's rulers are missing a golden opportunity. They could show tremendous leadership by allowing important reforms to happen in their society. Instead, they're choosing to keep things the way they are, denying half of the population those rights that are paramount in a civilized nation."
Senior Editor Annex Press
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