2012. The year that women were allowed to compete in the Olympics. 2013. The year that women were allowed to ride bicycles and motorbikes wearing a full body covering. 2015. The year women could vote and get elected. 2018. The year women were allowed to drive and enter sports stadiums.
Imagine this being your reality, with restrictions placed on you solely because of your gender. Not enough people in the world know about the struggle these women face and most do not realize the inequality that still goes on there every single day.
The AP Government class of 21 students, taught by Mike Carswell, held a discussion about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. It is interesting to note that awareness about this topic is not highly known. Fourteen students stated that they possessed little awareness in regards to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, while seven claimed that they possessed moderate awareness.
“I did not know that they could not play in the Olympics, even with their head scarves still on,” Abigail Rice said.
Rice was not the only one who was surprised to realize how limited women’s rights have been.
“I was surprised about [women] not being allowed in sports stadiums because that is something that even in America we are obviously allowed to do,” Avery Householder said. “So, the fact that they were not allowed to until this year is kind of crazy.”
However surprised students were to learn about these limits, all agreed on one thing. The system in Saudi Arabia is not fair and clearly is a violation of natural rights.
“They [Saudi Arabia women] are people just the same as men, and being a women should not make you any less of a person,” Caitlyn Baker said.
Apart from recognizing the inequality between men and women in Saudi Arabia, it is important to understand why those differences exist in the first place.
“In most countries around the world the standard between men and women is so much more even than it is for Saudi Arabia, but a lot of that has to do with religion,” McKaela Kramer said. “Their basis of religion is a lot different than Christianity, so their god, Allah, might not see women equal as men.”
Kramer’s statement provides a lot of insight. Saudi Arabia requires that its citizens be Muslims who follow the religion of Islam. This religion has allowed Saudi Arabia to create a culture of discrimination against women and even a culture of a abuse. In fact, some Islamic teachings encourage domestic violence against women because the teachings give men permission to beat their wives if they are disobedient.
“Christianity can kind of aid women’s rights, but if your religion is different than that, then it could stand in the way,” Kramer said.
Apart from why Saudi Arabia has developed into what it is today, it is is also important to consider how positive change can be brought about in order to continue advancing women’s rights.
“I think it is hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes just because we have so many rights, such as the right to speak out for what we believe in,” Householder said. “But they don’t have that so I think for them violence has to occur in order to make a point.”
Bailey Strickland agrees that while violence is usually never the answer, the situation in Saudi Arabia is so dire that there is no other way out.
“I don't think that violence is ever an acceptable way to change things because it is so drastic and it is awful that people are having to lose their lives to bring attention to it,” Strickland said. “But in a culture like this where the women are ignored and have no power there’s not another way for them to get that attention and make people see that what's happening there is wrong.”
Andrew Wilkins offered another possible insight into improving women’s status.
“Well they just received the right to vote a few years ago, so that could be a possible solution, so they can elect who they want now,” Wilkins said.
Carswell offers yet another perspective that could bring light into how women in Saudi Arabia could advance their freedom.
“Violence begets violence,” Carswell said. “Think about historically what means of protest have actually worked- boycott. Imagine if all of those women refused to do women’s work.”
Carswell even alluded to one of the greatest leaders of all time as an example of the type of unity that these women need.
“What did Nelson Mandela do when he was elected? Did he throw all the whites out without even thinking about it or did he unite the country together under a peaceful leadership,?” Carwell said.
The struggle for women to achieve equality in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle east is an ongoing process that needs to be talked about as more awareness is raised. While Americans are able to enjoy rights and freedoms, it is important to remember that the struggle is not over for the rest of the world.
“Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Carswell said.
Photo Courtesy of The Express Tribune