Saudi Arabia is well known for its high levels of gender inequality – and this week, Janice Turner pointed out that it is the only nation, in ‘flagrant disregard of the Olympic Charter, that will not be sending any women to the games. The rational for this is that exercise, according to the Saudi Religious Police, prompts girls to wear scanty clothes, mix with men and leave the house ‘unnecessarily’. (I got this from The Week – I wouldn’t post a link to The Times in any case because of its pay wall)
Turner points out that there is precedent for banning Saudi Arabia from the Olympics – as happened in 2000 with the Taliban, and as happens to any country practising Racial rather than gender apartheid.
This gender apartheid is well documented – even if not widely publicised – Just some of the ways in which women are oppressed in Saudi Arabia include
- Women are generally expected to wear the full Hijab in public – with only the eyes and hands being visible.
- There is a strict policy of sex segregation in public places – including work places and restaurants, with facilities often being of a lesser quality than for men.
- Even though women’s literacy is high compared to some countries, educational opportunities are heavily gendered – with women being effectively prohibited from studying traditionally male subjects such as engineering and law – 97% of Female degrees are in education or the social sciences, which are deemed to be suitable for women.
- Women are not allowed to travel without being accompanied by a male relative – resulting in their Being banned from driving – Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to do so – which has actually led to a Facebook campaign and women posting videos of themselves driving
- Finally, there is the possibility of being lashed and sent to jail for committing adultery – even if the victim of a gang rape
All of this is pretty grim from the perspective of most people in the West, and serves to illustrate numerous themes in Sociology –
Firstly, Saudi Arabia has to be one of the best examples of overt patriarchy preventing women from having equal opportunities with men – and thus shows us the continued relevance of Feminism globally. Of course you might take issue with this and argue that there are some pros to Saudi society too, but from the straightforward perspective of gender equality – women are clearly not equal with men.
Secondly, it demonstrates the limits of ‘Cultural Globalisation’ – clearly Liberal, or any type of Feminism, hasn’t effectively penetrated the boarders of this country.
Thirdly, Saudi Arabia is a very good example of the problems of relying on the standard statistical indicators of development – Saudi Arabia has a GNI per capita (PPP) of just over $23 000, ranking 56th in the world, and has a correspondingly high HDI (nearly – 0.8) – also ranking 56th.
However, on the ‘Gender Equality Index’, which compares the male-female rates of things such as political involvement, years in school, and the number of men and women in work, Saudi Arabia drops down to 135th (or thereabouts – I may’ve lost count!). Saudi Arabia must be the country that shows the biggest gap between its GNI/ HDI and it’s level of Gender Inequality.
I should just mention that things are on the up – women will be able to vote for the firs time in 2015, and are much more likely to be allowed to study abroad, for example, than in previous decades, but this relative liberalisation may not last forever, and, in any case, by the standards of gender equality in the west, Saudi Arabia has a long way to go until it rids itself of its gender apartheid.