Why is divorce looked down?

Key to the kingdom

In response to my struggleRegarding women's rights in my country, some people who do not live in the Kingdom like to point their fingers at the Saudi Arabian men. But I say: If the laws are bad, then men are bad too - their bad side then becomes visible. They can afford to do what they want without even realizing that what they are doing to their wives is not right.

I love my country - it is better to fight for change here. Those who speak out from outside the country are not taken so seriously. If you do that in the country itself, people are more impressed. That's why I don't want to go. Some here believe that my work is about westernizing our society: I've been abroad, I have these strange ideas that I want to enforce. But it is not like that. It's not about East or West - it's about human rights.

Indeed my mother hadand my grandmother have more rights and freedoms than we do today. They could travel without asking permission. There were no religious rules about what to wear. Women worked in the fields, in the markets. Today women cannot get such jobs, they are not even allowed to. Back then, it was easier for women to marry the man they wanted. Her fathers toiled in the fields and were happy when their daughters started their own household - then there was one less mouth to feed. Today society is more urbanized, many women work in offices and many fathers will not let them get married because they want to collect their salaries.

My paternal grandmother was married three times. Her first husband died. She divorced her second husband in the 1930s - it was much easier for a woman back then. They argued once, he hit her and she said, "That's enough - I want a divorce." Today there are many women who are abused but continue to live with their husbands and do not run away because they see no way out. It can take a woman years to get a divorce even if she is molested by her husband. A woman who abandons her husband is looked down on. In the 1970s, as a girl, I traveled to Iraq, to ​​Kuwait, with my mother without any problems. We didn't need a man or his permission.

The situation has gradually changedchanged. One of the main reasons was economic development. Before the oil boom, women had more freedom because the culture was still nomadic. As we gradually got more money and urbanization began, after the oil industry was established, we began to separate from each other. We could afford two schools, one for boys and one for girls; two different universities, one for women, one for men.

And after the revolution in Iran, of course, people had another reason to be more restrictive. Saudi Arabia is the home of Islam, so we have an obligation to be even more religious than Iran. There was also concern that the Iranian revolution might be imported into the kingdom because of our Shiite minority. And the emergence of the jihadi movement during the wars in Afghanistan also gave religious groups more influence.

We know that the Taliban or jihadis were trained by the CIA, with money from Saudi Arabia, from the Gulf. Jordan and Egypt have also funded jihadis. The goal was to destroy communism. But the price is very high - for the West and for us here too. These people came back to Saudi Arabia. There were terrorist attacks here too.

On international women's dayin 2008 I asked my sister to film me driving a car. We drove to the beach. After I posted the video on Youtube, some young women also got behind the wheel and one was seriously injured because some men caught her trying to push her off the road. I was arrested two years ago for walking in the street with a sign demanding women's rights in the kingdom. They told me I needed a male guardian or they would lock me up. So my brother came to pick me up. Another time they confiscated my passport and it was lucky I got it back.

I made a film about child marriages, interviewed young girls across the country and asked them if they wanted to get married. Everyone said "no". I also published that on the Internet. I'm constantly looking for ways to motivate women to just say "no" to all this oppression. I write articles, I protest, I organize. But the women are scared - even of signing a petition. They fear that if they do this, their husbands or fathers will become violent. This is my big fight: to get women to fight for their liberation. Some women whom I encouraged to violate the male guardianship law were prevented from doing so by their male relatives or the police. A woman with two children married to a violent drug addict tried to leave the country. The police held her at the airport - a man has to fill out a special form at the police station so that his wife can go abroad.

The law on the maleGuardianship is the biggest problem in women's lives. If we get rid of this law, the situation of women will improve enormously. We'd get our lives back. We could study, travel, get married and divorced, live alone, own a cell phone and do as we please. The feminist movement is getting stronger here, and many authors and journalists are participating. We hope, Inshallah, that something will change.

Based on the records of Hadani Ditmars

The Saudi Arabian feminist and author Wajeha al-Huwaider can be seen on Youtube at http://tinyurl.com/37kkcp; some of her texts are published at http://tinyurl.com/2bvm86. In 2004 she received the PEN / NOVIB Free Expression Award.

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