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A Law Against Girls Riding Bikes?

UnknownTen-year-old Wadjda yearned to ride a bike so that she could race a neighbor boy. But Saudi law forbade it.

The girl is actually a fictional character from the film, “Wadjda.” But she likely represents plenty of real Saudi girls. They may not yearn for bicycles, especially, but they may have other forbidden dreams.

Six months after “Wadjda” premiered, Saudi law declared bicycling legal for girls and women. But the continuing restrictions reveal why it was ever banned.

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Saudi Women Can Vote. West, Middle East Can Learn From Each Other

Saudi women got the right to vote and run in municipal elections this week. It’s a big step forward.

There are limitations. It’s hard to run for office when you can’t drive or show your face. Some fear political stalling. And men could keep their wives and daughters from voting. But the women are optimistic. Let’s hope for the best.

Interestingly, only about five years ago George W. Bush sent Karen Hughes to Saudi Arabia to express her hope that one day Saudi women would be able to vote and drive. She was surprised when many said they didn’t want to do either.

Past relations between Western and Middle Eastern feminists have sometimes been strained with Western feminists lecturing Middle Eastern women, and Middle Eastern women rejecting what they see as Western arrogance.

Yet the road to women’s rights presents plenty of opportunity for all of us to learn from one another.

There is plenty that Westerners could have, and may have, learned from our Arabian sisters and brothers in the early years of Islam. When we were in the Dark Ages.

Back in the 7th century the Koran gave women the right to work, own property and inherit, and provided protections from domestic violence. Women were also granted the right to give their consent to marry.

But lately Arab women have been taking some cues from us.  Both the Arab Spring and Saudi women’s suffrage were inspired by Western democracies.

And perhaps now it is time for us to learn from them, again. The Arab Spring has inspired many Americans who wonder at our current state of democracy which is marked by legalized bribery (large campaign contributions) that make important matters like environmental sustainability and economic renewal political impossibilities.

Too often Western women think they have nothing to learn from their Middle Eastern sisters, while Middle Eastern women reject Western notions out of hand.

Perhaps we would do better to have dialogue and learn from each other.

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Raping Children under Pretext of Marriage

Saudi Arabia: A Hepatitis B infected 65-year-old man married an 11-year-old girl. Soon she’ll be infected.

Yemen: A 10-year-old was forced to marry a 30-year-old deliveryman. He took her out of school and beat her regularly. (Due to some smarts and luck, she later became a ten-year-old divorcee.) 

Saudi Arabia: A father married off his 13-year-old daughter to a man in his 50s because he wanted dowry money to buy a car.

Afghanistan: A 14-year old was married off to satisfy an obligation. Abused, used as a servant, and forced to sleep in an outbuilding with animals, she eventually (and famously) ended up on Time Magazine’s cover with a severed nose as punishment for fleeing her abuse. 

One Saudi social worker told Al Riyadh that she knows of three thousand cases where girls, 13-years-old and younger, were forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers.  Or as Eman Al Nafjan at change.org described it, “forcing children to be raped under the pretensions of marriage.” 

All of this is ironic as staunchly pious Muslim states somehow forget their religion: The Quran gives females the right to consent to marry. But forcing children to marry removes their say. Early Islam actually had a feminist air, and many Muslim feminists are working to return to that more woman-positive time.

Fortunately, a movement against child marriage is rising in Saudi Arabia. If you would like to read more, go to change.org, where you can also sign petition.

Hopefully, one day the right to consent to marry will not be just an empty promise.

Georgia Platts

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Cultural Relativism: Must We Be Nazis to Criticize Them?

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