Another Saudi perpetual minor
October 15, 2010 7 Comments
A disturbing new case of domestic violence is bringing attention again to the guardianship system in Saudi Arabia. Samar Badawi is a grown up woman of 32 years, she had a modest job in a women saloon to support herself and her 8 years old son after her divorce. She lived with her brother after the divorce. Her mother died of cancer when she was 13 and her father has been abusive ever since, she tried running away to relatives but had to go back to her father’s house after he threatened everyone who tried to interfere. after her divorce he insisted she moves in with him to claim her income, but she refused. In response to the initiative of removing violence against women, Samar has decided to escape and seek help from the women shelter in Jeddah. The officials there has helped her to file a case against her father to remove his guardianship and get a place of herself to live peacefully with her son. During the case investigations, abuse was documented against the father. Yet, in a strange turn around of things, the father decided to file a law suit against Samar for disobedience, and strangely enough, the judge, Abdullah Al-Othaim, known for his reservations against the women shelters initiative, has ruled that Samar should be detained and punished for her disobedience. She managed to escape from the shelter to avoid the sentence, while she waits fot the hearing on her own case, but she was arrested in the court while attending her own case, and she was kept in women prison since then, one year ago. Samar tried calling the judge, AlOthaim, to ask about her sentence and when she can get out of prison or get a chance to see her son? He answered her that she should now know how powerful judges are, she should learn a lesson for running away. The prison system in Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow the women prisoners to be released after their sentence unless by their legal guardian, in Samar’s case, her father. It doesn’t as well allow prisoners any visits except from first degree relatives, so I can’t meet her or offer any moral support.
The lawyer in Samar’s case, Mr. Walid Abulkhair, has tried contacting the press after the failure of all other resources, her tried contacting the governor’s office, they issued a letter with direction to the court to correct the situation of Samar and get her father legal guardianship revoked, but the direction has never been followed.
The case is now raising the follwoing concerns:
How would an abusive male guardian be held accountable if the legal system doesn’t support women rights for safety and independent living?
What resources are available for women in abusive houses if the shelters are not equipped to protect them against harm?
In a situation where legal help in violence can’t be met, should we blame women for breaking the laws to seek safety and protect themselves?
Despite the fact that the guardianship system has turned into a barrier rather than a protection system for women nowadays, and the discrepancy between the directions and vision of the royal governors and the legal system officials toward the system, yet, the translation of good wishes into policies and laws are still not established. Women still need their guardians’ official agreement to practice any thing in their lives including their release from prisons.
Here is what a 2008 Human rights watch report has documented on the guardianship system and the gender segregation practices in Saudi Arabia:
“The Saudi government has instituted a system whereby every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, who is tasked with making arange of critical decisions on her behalf. This policy, grounded in the most restrictive interpretation of an ambiguous Quranic verse, is the most significant impediment tothe realization of women’s rights in the kingdom. The Saudi authorities essentially treat adult women like legal minors who are entitled to little authority over their ownlives and well-being.
Strictly enforced sex segregation adds to these barriers and hinders a Saudiwoman’s ability to participate fully in public life. The Saudi government is willing tosacrifice a host of fundamental human rights in order to prevent the intermingling ofmen and women. In 2005 the absence of separate voting booths for women wasused as an excuse to exclude them from the country’s first-ever municipal elections.For employers, the need to establish separate office spaces and women’s inability tointeract with many government agencies without a male representative provide asignificant disincentive to hiring women. In education, segregation often means thatwomen are relegated to unequal facilities with inferior academic opportunities.Female students and professors also told Human Rights Watch that, unlike for their male counterparts, the gates to their colleges and departments are locked during teaching hours.”
Yet, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has signed the international convention to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in 2001, so whatever happened to such agreement? while we wait for answers, Samar and other Saudi women of similar situations are waiting in detentions…
This case, despite being dealt with in court for the past year, has gained a lot of attention in International press, on Arabic networks of Facebook, but not in the official Saudi media… I have posted before on this issue here and here, and I’m still waiting as many other Saudi women for the light at the end of the tunnel…
Updates on Samar’s case:
It has been released today on the Saudi newspapers that the supreme court have just responded to a five months ago request submitted by Samar’s lawyer to open an investigation in the court proceedings; a good sign for a near breakthrough…
I have also been advised b Walid Abulkhair, Samar’s lawyer to contact the warden of Jeddah’s women prison where Samar is detained, she instructed me to ask my newspaper agency to submit a formal request through my news agency to interview Samar, the request has been sent yesterday and I’m now waiting for their feedback on this matter…
Samar has been released into the custody of her uncle on 26 October 2010