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Male “Guardians” in Saudi Arabia

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By Amy Callaghanurl

There are issues with women’s rights everywhere. These issues include, but are certainly not limited to; the ever-present wage gap, the continued effect of sexism encountered by women in their day to day lives, and, of course, the fact that in Saudi Arabia women still need the permission of their male guardian to do pretty much anything.

It’s a fact that women’s rights in places like Saudi Arabia are horrific. We hear shocking news stories all the time, most often about the driving ban, which is perhaps the most well known issue in the UK and US. But the human rights issue goes far beyond that. The guardian system means that  women are assigned a male ‘guardian’- usually their father, brother or husband – and this ‘guardian’ basically has total control over the woman’s life. Women can’t study, work, travel, even go to the doctor without the permission of their guardian. Good grief. It all sounds a bit Victorian, doesn’t it?

My question, though, is about the cultural restraints on women. Sure, there is legislation in place regarding the guardian system, and the driving ban, and we know Saudi Arabia is not hesitant to punish harshly for breaches. But does a cultural aspect play into it at all? Even if the legislation was slackened, would women feel comfortable making the most of new freedoms?

The answer, according to the wife of a Saudi journalist, is no.

In June, in one of my classes at school, I got the opportunity to listen to a Saudi man – a journalist. He worked for a magazine – talking about issues in Saudi Arabia. At first glance, he seemed reasonably progressive. He spoke about how he wished women’s rights were more like how they are in the UK, where he apparently spends a lot of time. Yet scratch the surface and his answers to certain questions seemed slightly evasive and indirect. And one of the things he said which surprised me most was about his wife.

He seems like a nice husband, don’t get me wrong. His wife travels with him to the UK, and when in the UK seems to enjoy all the freedoms of a UK woman, like being allowed to drive, for example. Yet her husband told us that she had said, despite being perfectly happy to drive in the UK, that she wouldn’t drive in Saudi Arabia even if it was legal – and even if, 5 years after it became legal, it was a widely accepted practice.

Hmmm. That just doesn’t fly with me. I’m sure, of course, that there are women who wouldn’t feel comfortable, initially, driving. But after it became commonly accepted, I’m pretty sure women would gladly be driving about, enjoying their new (and overdue) freedom. In addition, the prolific campaign Women2Drive which asks that the ban on women driving be lifted (started by Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman and activist) has garnered a lot of public support, not only overseas but, more tellingly, in the Saudi community, with many women driving cars in towns in Saudi Arabia in protest of the ban. So clearly, Saudi women do want to drive.

Another statistic reflecting the relative progressiveness of women in Saudi Arabia is the fact that 60% of university graduates in Saudi Arabia are Saudi women. That’s right, 60%. Saudi women make up the majority of graduates – showing a keen thirst for learning and knowledge, and the gaining of skills – yet they only constitute 18.6% of the nation’s workforce (as of 2011). What happens between graduating and a career? Where do all the intelligent, capable, eager Saudi women go? The most likely answer is, their male guardian won’t let them work – they’ve had their chance to go and study, and now they should be satisfied with staying in the home where they belong.

Yet even the fact that they want to study shows that Saudi women want to progress. They don’t want to stay locked in the same rights-restricting jam. Give them the freedom to do these things themselves – no male permission needed – and they will. And the country will be better for it.

We Support No More Page 3

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We support No More Page 3. As an organisation that seeks to empower young women through writing and activism, we feel that Page 3 undermines all the incredible work that young women are doing. We live in a society where young women’s voices have been left to fight for space in a corner on the Internet, but young women’s bodies are readily available for consumption every day in a newspaper. Page 3 has made each of us – at some point – feel uncomfortable, disrespected and powerless. We want women to be represented for what they do rather than what they look like. We want to live in a society where young women’s words hold more importance than the shape and size of our breasts. 

Page 3 is an unnecessary part of The Sun that does little to increase sales (if anything it decreases them) as well as causing many people, including myself, to feel uncomfortable. What does it add to the newspaper? Surely it cannot be considered to be news? And the amount of occasions where it is blatantly out of place such as after headlines about child abuse or rape! It is wrong and must go. – Chloe, 18

A newspaper is widely considered a household item, part of everyday life. Therefore, Page 3 makes naked women seem like part of everyday life, too. As a result, it becomes ingrained into people from a young age that this is normal and expected; women bare their breasts for men, and that is the end of it. This is hugely damaging in many ways- for example, it can lead to pressure if a woman doesn’t want to do what a man wants, and it gives a false image on both sides as to what the female body should and should not look like. These negativities should not be such an accepted part of life. It’s time to move on- it’s time to get rid of Page 3. – Becky, 17

Seeing women presented as sexual objects alongside men presented as politicians, high achievers and world leaders has a massive effect on how society sees women, particularly young girls, who begin to believe a woman’s only purpose is as a sexual object. Page 3 perpetuates this belief and is also hugely detrimental to the self-esteem of girls and young women. Page 3 is an archaic practice that is holding back our society from erasing sexism. – Amy, 16

The Sun is supposed to be a family newspaper. But no families I know buy it. Why? Because they don’t want their children to learn that sexualisation of a woman is normal. That women are just their bodies, simply objects. Page 3 is disgusting misogyny, and it doesn’t do much for The Sun’s sales anymore, so why have it? – Sophia, 17

I support NMP3 because the idea of women’s breasts being entertainment in a newspaper perpetuates the idea that women are there to entertain men. Glamour modelling has no place in a newspaper and quite simply, boobs aren’t news. – Jess, 16

I support NMP3 because every time I feel like society is making a little step further towards an England where women aren’t sexual objects, I’m reminded that Page 3 exists and all hope is lost. It’s shocking and like a sharp kick to the stomach. Whilst some may feel this ‘news’ is harmless, I can promise you, it isn’t. 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual violence In England and Wales, and I, as well as many others, believe that the day Page 3 doesn’t exist will be the day people will begin to view women more as human beings that deserve respect, not sexual toys to provoke and abuse. I support NMP3 because I don’t want to live in a world where people are so ready to critique a woman for presenting her body sexually in public, yet believe it’s okay when the Sun does the exact same thing for profit. If the exploitation of women’s breasts for profit is ‘just the way it is’ then I’m scared to be a woman, and that shouldn’t be okay. – Gemma, 18

The convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women dictates that states must ‘take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise’. Factually speaking, the UK government partakes in this movement; a fact that seems almost laughable considering the complete lack of enforcement when it comes to women in the media. I wish to question as to why the shocking discrimination against women perpetuated by Page 3 continues to thrive and prosper on newspaper stands and shelves. Why is an image equivalent to those found in ‘lad mags’ available at child’s-eye level? If the government’s own research has shown a link between the portrayal of women as sex objects in the media and greater acceptance of sexual harassment and violence against women, why does the government refuse to ban Page 3? The answer, ashamedly, is that we live in a society where the media is written by men for men; a culture that propels and perpetuates the view that women are commodities for male consumption and entertainment. I contend that these pornographic, derogatory images are not harmless, nor are they just ‘banter’. They compound on real women’s wellbeing, safety, behavior and education. They are feeding our young boys that this is the purpose of women; this is how young women should be viewed, used, abused, exploited and treated. They are feeding our young girls the notion that sex sells and is the only solution to achieving success in a male-dominated world. Why are these ideologies still prevalent in 2014? If a naked woman’s body can be used as such a vital component to media consumption, it is about time that a woman’s voice can become the vital component to eradicate the former. – Olivia, 21

Please sign the petition: change.org/nomorepage3

For more information about the campaign, visit their website, nomorepage3.org

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