Sunday, February 9, 2014

Save my Life - then my Modesty

Apparently the senseless deaths of 15 Saudi schoolgirls back in 2002 weren’t enough to learn the lesson.  The teenagers perished in a school fire when the religious police would not allow them to escape the burning building because the girls were not properly veiled according to religious customs.  The results were public uproar and outrage, and we all thought the lesson had been learned, that we would never again see this type of backward ignorance and apparent disregard for human life. 

But it has happened again and this time one young Saudi woman is dead.

Graduate student Amna Bawazeer suffered a heart attack on the campus of King Saudi University in Riyadh on Feb. 6, 2014.  She had a known heart condition. 

There are conflicting reports about the length of time that elapsed from the moment Amna collapsed to the time that medical assistance was actually summoned.  Fellow students tweeted that administrators delayed calling for help for 25 minutes.  A staff member speaking confidentially was quoted as saying that the administrators basically freaked out about the situation and were unable to react effectively. 

Reports say that the male paramedic team arrived within 10 minutes of receiving the call.

What happened next is also in being disputed.  School administrators claim that once the male paramedic team arrived on the scene that they were granted access inside the facility immediately.  However other eyewitnesses assert that paramedics were prevented from entering the grounds for some time.  

Saudi Arabia adheres to very strict gender segregation laws, and men are not normally allowed on female only campuses.  It is believed that the paramedic crew was detained at the gate because of this, as well as the possibility of the victim and other females on campus not being properly veiled according to Islamic standards. 

Some students are in shock and have suffered trauma and stress due to the incident. 

Witnesses say that administrators barred the medics from entering the university despite the existence of a life and death emergency situation.  Instead they opted to ignore the welfare of a student, a decision which resulted in costing the student her life.  Amna died waiting for help two hours after her heart attack.

“We need management who can make quick decisions without thinking of what the family will say or what culture will say,” said Professor Aziza Youssef.

Despite administrators’ claims, two things seem abundantly clear.  Precious minutes elapsed before summoning help for the dying girl.  And even more time elapsed once the paramedics arrived at the university and were allowed to enter the premises to administer aid.  Precious minutes that could have possibly saved this poor girl’s life. 

How many more women must die before this lesson is learned?  What is more important – saving a life or preserving her modesty?  To most people around the world, the answer is clear.  And the world is watching. Unfortunately it is a hard lesson to learn for a culture obsessed with lesser important moral appearances and practices, especially when lives are at stake.  

There is an online petition called “Save my life - then my modesty– because every life matters and counts” in memory of Amna.  I don’t know that it will effect change, but it’s worth a try.