Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Gender Segregation is Insulting!

Few things about life here in Saudi Arabia get me all riled up like the extreme gender segregation does.  It is one of the things that I dislike the most and one of the things that I feel does WAY more harm than good.

In my opinion, gender segregation is largely responsible for many of this country's social problems.  Gender segregation stunts healthy emotional growth.  The high divorce rate can be cited as a problem partially caused by gender segregation.  At puberty young boys and girls are suddenly separated socially from each other and there is no interaction with the opposite sex.  As a result many young people who marry do not know how to communicate, act or behave around the opposite sex.

Photo Credit: RealSociology.edublogs.org

Many young Saudi men are often accused of harassing women - and it's directly due to the way this society is set up with severe gender segregation, plus the lack of accountability for men and their actions.  Instead, this society usually chooses to put the blame on women by punishing them for men not being able to control themselves around fitna-inducing temptresses.

At the university level, young female students often fantasize, become obsessed with, and even fall in love with male professors who conduct classes for women from a remote location via closed circuit television.  I’ve heard many stories about how female students frequently pursue these male professors, who are often married, much older, and not even particularly attractive.

And now the latest issue regarding gender segregation has come about involving two women who were elected to the municipal council in Jeddah.  These women were elected to their positions, just like the men on the council were.  Yet there is an anti-women crusade going on to prevent these women from taking their rightful positions on the council alongside their male colleagues.  




This faction is trying to preclude these duly elected female officials from participating effectively on the council, marginalizing the women by forcing them to sit outside the council chambers, like children who are being punished, instead of full-fledged elected members of the board. 
  
Seriously? Women in Saudi Arabia achieved a major milestone when they were allowed to vote and run for public office for the first time in their lives in December 2015 - a HUGE step forward for Saudi women.  But now others are trying to prevent them from effectively carrying out their duties.  Gender segregation carried to such an extreme like this is not only insulting to the women, it is extremely insulting to the men on the council who are being perceived as incapable of being trusted or of controlling themselves around a couple of female colleagues and incapable of seeing women as anything other than sexual objects. 

To make matters worse and to exemplify the severity of this extreme gender segregation, the two councilwomen, Lama Al-Suleiman and Rasha Hefzi, have now received death threats for attempting to take their rightful place at the meetings.  Fortunately there has been support for the women from the community, but there are some who oppose them.  
  
Don’t miss these two articulate opinion pieces recently written by a couple of Saudi women about this very subject:

“Saudi Women’s Work and Challenges in the Council Just Starting” by Maha Akeel

“Women’s Empowerment” by Nabeela Husni Mahjoub

12 comments:

  1. If the rules for segregation were equal, it would still be wrong, but they aren't this photo is a good example. The men can wear either modern clothing or traditional, women must wear a covering (that is not really traditional anyway).

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  2. I think your article is both eloquent and restrained. I hope you will get support from leadership on the council and/or the people in the area.

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  3. I can only imagine your frustration. I thought giving women the right to vote would make more differences. I continue to hope for change.

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  4. As a convert/revert to Islam, I also believe that extreme sexual segregation can cause problems. In fact for people such as myself, "normal" segregation was, and still is to a certain extent, as due to circumstances I was brought up almost single handedly by my mother which means I am far more relaxed when in female company, than in an entirely male situation. In fact, I thought the efforts to enforce sexual segregation at the hajj terminal at Jeddah airport were ridicculass. Alhamdullillah, my wife and I were in the position to perform our hajj 7 years ago; and there we were waiting with everybody else for our flight home. Eventually the plane arrived, a whole load of European converts who would no doubt be mixed-up by the seating on the plane ( and be used to the situation), yet the airport terminal officials were still insisting on segregation - even between husbands and their wives!

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    1. Hi Carlos - I agree that the attempts at gender segregation here in KSA are ridiculous. What makes it even more laughable is how inconsistent they are at applying these "rules." Every place one goes, the rules are different or non-existent. Everyone here is so confused.

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  5. Hi Susie,

    Here in the Eastern Province it is after kindergarten that boys & girls are usually segregated. So wrong. Also your whole post was absolutely correct when it comes to the disasterous social effects gender segregation has on the population's mental health. It needs to stop.

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  6. Two years in this "kingdom" are about enough for us. Can't imagine any woman having to deal with this much longer. How can a woman relax or enjoy the great outdoors in Saudi Arabia?

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  7. If gender segregation is the problem why is there more domestic abuse in the UK for instance? Gender segregation is from Islam not from Saudi culture, Saudi Arabia is pretty much the only country that enforces the laws of Islam on a state level. As a convert to Islam that is why I'm here and I much prefer it to my home country England, so does my wife who's Dutch. I think people who don't like it quite simply should go and live elsewhere instead of complaining or trying to change it. (Islamic law is not up for change)

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    1. Anonymous - First of all, I'm not sure I follow your attempt at correlating gender segregation with domestic abuse in the UK. Secondly, domestic abuse exists widely and is greatly under reported in KSA. Good for you that you prefer the gender segregation enforced in KSA. But telling me to go live elsewhere is unacceptable - this from a total stranger, someone who does not know my personal situation. And since I MUST live here with my husband (HIS choice) I will continue to complain loudly about the things I would like to see changed here. And one more thing, many other Islamic countries do not take this gender segregation thing to the extreme that KSA does, and they are doing just fine. Extremism in all things is just not good at all.

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  8. I do not agree with you susie because when I compare with France and England countries where I have been living for a long time there is a lot of divorces even though people are used to live in a mixed society between men and women. I really think segregation is not the problem. Young men and women who want to marry should be more prepared with responsibilities of wedding ect...

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    1. Hi Aesha - There are many factors contributing to the high divorce rates worldwide. I do believe that gender segregation stunts normal social and emotional growth and plays a role in young men and women being ill prepared for the dynamics of marriage.

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  9. Hello Susie, i am french currently based in Dubai and was reading this book "Princess" to better understand Saudi Arabia society and women condition...this book seems a bit old though and i was looking on the internet to find some more recent info until i found your blog....thank you for the interesting insights!! I work in retail and a lot of my Clients -woman- are from Saudi Arabia, i really wanted to better understand their culture...again thank you for your blog which gives a current snapshot of this society!

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