There are many unusual and sometimes bizarre cultural occurrences in Saudi Arabia that make the news here on a daily basis. Today I read about a medical emergency at an all-girls’ high school here in Jeddah. The incident involved a student who had an epileptic seizure which was witnessed by several other students who promptly fainted. Medical assistance was summoned.
Now let me just interject here that there are no co-ed Saudi schools here beyond about age 7. In girls’ schools, all teachers and administrators are also female, and in boys’ schools, the teachers are all male. This is because of the strict societal norms here of segregating the sexes in social situations.
Apparently four all-male paramedical teams from four different local hospitals rushed to the school, only to be turned away by the female principal because she wouldn’t allow men in her school. The principal demanded that an all-female team be dispatched.
About an hour later, an all-female rescue team did arrive at the school and was allowed access to treat the female students.
This incident reminded me of the girls’ school fire in Makkah in 2002 when fourteen girls perished after being locked into the burning building by religious police on the scene who refused to let the desperate girls out to safety because their hair wasn’t properly covered according to Islam.
Maybe this latest incident wasn’t a clear-cut matter of life-or-death, but it was a medical emergency involving several students. So at what point does this strict interpretation of cultural segregation of the sexes become too extreme, dangerous and senseless? What is more important – saving a life or enforcing a cultural rule that could result in the loss of life?