by Jamison Maeda
Souad Al-Shammary, Saudi Arabia’s first female attorney, has been
imprisoned for speaking out about women’s rights and her opposition to
the male guardian system. She was arrested on October 28th and remains
Saudi women require permission from a male guardian (usually a father,
husband, or brother) to go to school, to marry or divorce, to work, to
travel, and even for some medical procedures. And of course, no Saudi
women are allowed to drive.
Saudi Arabian authorities are known to target activists, and because
Ms Al-Shammy is the head of the Saudi Liberal Network and an outspoken
advocate of women’s rights, she was dismissed from her job, denied
retirement benefits, and was banned from traveling outside of Saudi
Arabia. Another activist, Raif Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi
Liberals website, was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison and
1,000 lashes for speaking out against the Saudi government.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ruled entirely by the Saud family.
Saudi law is supposedly based on Islam, but is much more heavily
influenced by patriarchal, tribal customs that have nothing to do with
religion. Saudi law is not only oppressive to women and activists.
Migrant workers have no protection under the law, the practice of
other religions is prohibited, and homosexuality is punishable by
death. The estimated number of human rights activists imprisoned in
Saudi Arabia ranges from zero, as reported by the Ministry of the
Interior, to 30,000 as estimated by the Islamic Human Rights
Commission based in the UK.
The case against Souad Al-Shammary quickly gained international
attention. Numerous articles in French, Dutch, and German have been
posted online, and a petition to free Ms Al-Shammary was signed by
more than 30,000 people in only a few days.
People around the world are sending a strong message that the
oppression of women will not be silently tolerated in 2014. One of
this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners was 17 year old Malala
Yousafzay, the young woman from Pakistan who after being shot by the
Taliban for going to school has become a leader in the global movement
for the education of girls and women. Malala says about fight for
women’s rights “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and
stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this:
weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage