While sex segregation is the norm in Saudi Arabia, when it comes to the selling and purchasing of lingerie, all rules seem to vanish. When purchasing undergarments, Saudi women are faced with having to discuss their most personal details with male salesmen because only men are permitted to work in the majority of the country’ stores, according to the Associated Press. Women are prohibited from leaving their homes without their black cloaks, called abayas, and simple showing of skin or hair can bring punishment and even imprisonment by the country’s religious police, the muttawa. Saudi women are enraged at the hypocrisy stating that while society covers you up, a salesman can strip you down, and label the experience as altogether humiliating, the AP reports. Women have attempted to avoid these experiences by shopping for lingerie abroad, or shopping at women-only outlets, which are rare and few in the country, according to AP.
But the predicament of Saudi women exceeds facing embarrassment while shopping for lingerie. Amnesty International’s report on Saudi women states that the abuse of women’s rights in the country are not just a result of religious police and overzealous security, but rather the state policy that provides women with fewer rights than men, subjecting them to discrimination in all aspects of life while authorizing men to use power without ever being held liable for their actions.
The systematic oppression of Saudi women reached devastating heights in March of this year when fifteen girls at a local middle school were allowed to burn to death because they were not veiled when a fire broke out at the building. The captain of the religious police warned firefighters that there could be no physical contact between the sexes if the women were not covered, according to the TimesOnline.
The US used the suffering of Afghan women to win support to oust the Taliban; however Saudi Arabia is one of our closest allies. Saudi Arabia is the “great, infuriating exception to almost every rule of word affairs,” according to an article in TimesOnline. The manner in which the Saudi government marginalizes half its population is almost identical to the Taliban; while owning a third of the world’s oil reserves, it is not even vaguely democratic and has a judicial system based entirely on Islamic sharia law. However, the US remains silent about its ally’s constant human rights violations. In the land of a king and his 7,000 princes, Saudis’ relationship with America brings in $100 billion annually in foreign exchange, TimesOnline reports. In January of 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a report describing how the US-led “War on Terror” threatens human rights in 66 countries worldwide. The 670-page report argues that the United States’ key allies that oppose political reform, such as Saudi Arabia, have “left their people with the desperate choice of tolerating the status quo, exile, or violence,” according to the Inter Press Service. The report argues that Washington’s inability to use its influence with their governments has in effect added to the “region’s radicalization,” reports.
Media Resources: Associated Press 10/15/02; TimesOnline 8/14/02; Inter Press Service 1/17/02; Amnesty International