Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Tag, You're It.


Today I learnt that women in Saudi Arabia will now be electronically tracked, so that their "guardian" will be able to know where they are, with warning updates. As if they haven't been restrictive enough up until now... 


Saudi Arabia is renowned for it's lack of respect and rights for women. It certainly seems to be competing against itself to become the most regressive country regarding these issues. As a feminist, you can imagine that this isn't the best kind of news that I enjoy hearing about, we all hope that countries like this will start to progress somewhat into the 21st century, not degrade women even further to almost the point of a runt animal. 

Women of Saudi are stripped from most of the norms that we see standard today. Voting, travelling, meeting friends for a drink or chat, isn't something that Saudi women can enjoy. The suffragettes fought  to win the vote for women in the UK in 1928, as did most other countries. However, Saudi Arabia have never allowed women the right to vote*, it is apparently changing in future elections, but personally, I'm not holding my breath. 

Traveling is probably the most important right that is taken away from Saudi Women. They are allowed to travel with the written permission from their guardian, so it is completely up to the male on whether they are allowed or not. But even then, it doesn't necessarily make it certain that they will be able to travel. There have been recorded events where women have had all the formal documents and permission but have not been granted to travel by the border control or security as they personally don't wish for the woman to travel. This whole notion of making the woman ask permission for everything belittles them so that they may as well be a child. It is elevating the man to a hierarchy that the woman must comply to, and with no questions asked, of course. 

The issue I have with the prohibition of traveling, is that it disables the woman to ever leaving. Duh, I hear you say. But it is not just about being stuck physically, but also mentally, and spiritually. Being born in Saudi Arabia is a prison in itself for some women. You must comply to the way that they want you to be. You are born into Islam, you have a strict dress-code, very little chance of a job let alone a career, and likely to be married to someone you are not even in love with. Some women are happy about that situation, and even though I cannot empathise with that, I'm almost glad as their innocent ignorance might be bliss to them, and help them live a life of some kind of happiness. But what about the other women, the women who want more. The women who know they are capable of so much, when society expects so little of them. What choice or right do they have? Well, little to none. The fact that they are not permitted to travel means that they will never be able to live in a country that lets them thrive in an environment which enables them to an education and opportunities in life that they want. And what man would ever knowingly agree to his sister, wife or daughter go and live this life which is so against everything they have ever been told or taught. 

Manal Al-Dowayan work 'Suspended Together' looks at the issue of travel for women in Saudi Arabia. The beautiful image of a flock of doves flying usually represents freedom and purity, but with a closer look these birds have been imprinted with ink, and are frozen in air. Neither pure, nor free. 





"The artist reached out to a large group of leading women from Saudi Arabia to donate their permission documents for inclusion in this artwork. “Suspended Together” carries the documents of award-winning scientists, educators, journalists, engineers, artists and leaders with groundbreaking achievements that gave back to their society. The youngest contributor is six months old and the oldest is 60 years old. In the artist’s words, “regardless of age and achievement, when it comes to travel, all these women are treated like a flock of suspended doves.”

The birds are imprinted with the permission slips of women to travel, each one personal to an individual, showing their travel rights attached to this one dove representing them. The fact that she went and found women to take part and give their documents gives a sense of women coming together and portraying their life in maybe a more creative way then ever possible before. Al-Dowayan's work first gave me hope of change for these issues as her work was enabling women to take part in such a public and personal matter in a sensitive manner, and maybe making women think twice through this work about the treatment of women in their country. But unfortunately, they really do live in a men's world. With developments such as this electronic tracking, it seems that men are become ever more worried about their women wanting to flee, thus bringing stricter ways to track women and putting even more power into the hands of men, and suppressing the women even more than before.

It will be interesting to see the developments of this debate, and see what effect these electronic tracking have on women in Saudi Arabia, and as a society as a whole. 
We can only hope that the shock collar won't be coming next. 

Fx



*Note: The Vatican City also denies women the right to vote. (But thats a whole other story, I'll let you come to your own conclusion of that.)