Monday, January 21, 2008

Is the UN actually helping?

There's a serious of articles that may prove the UN's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women might be working in Saudi women's favor.

(US participation in the CEDAW is not yet ratified, natch)

On January 18th, the committee called Saudi Arabia, a participant in CEDAW, out, pointing out that women have basically no rights in the country.

The committee sited these examples of oppression(via AFP):

Without the presence of this tutor (guardian), a woman cannot study, access health services, marry, travel abroad, have a business or even access an ambulance in an emergency," said one of the experts, according to minutes from the meeting.

"What is the legal basis in Saudi society that justifies this guardian system?" asked the same expert. "Is it necessary to maintain this system in the 21st century?"

Members of the committee asked the Saudi delegation why Saudi women do not have the right to drive.

In addition, they raised the case that made headlines around the world of a woman -- since exonerated by King Abdullah -- who had been convicted to six months in prison and 200 lashings after being gang-raped.

Saudi Arabia's response:
The Riyadh delegation reminded the committee that the country signed the convention with amendments made for Islamic law.

The kingdom is governed by Wahabism, a strict interpretation of Islam that -- in the name of Sharia law -- imposes complete separation of the sexes. As such, it is illegal for a woman to be in the company of a man who is not in her immediate family.

In its report, Riyadh also wrote that "Islam, as a realistic religion, admits that total equality between man and woman is contrary to reality, as various scientific studies on their psychological differences have shown".

On the subject of polygamy, the Saudi representatives replied that in the kingdom, men are permitted by law to have up to four wives.

Sometimes the sexual appetite of a man is not satisfied by his wife and he must take another wife to satisfy this, otherwise he would be obliged to satisfy it an illegal manner, outside of marriage, explained the delegation.


But something may have gotten through to Saudi Arabia. The Telegraph reports today that women will soon be allowed to drive, and four hours ago, the AP reported that Saudi women can now stay in hotels alone.

(I guess it makes sense not to let women stay in hotels by themselves. I mean, they're much better off sleeping on the streets.)

Are these just small concessions to keep women from revolting? To keep the UN off their backs? To keep the world out of their business? Or are things really changing. I find the latter pretty hard to believe.

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