Right to Vote But No Driving

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Saudi monarch grants kingdom’s women right to vote, but driving ban remains in force

By Associated Press

2011-09-27T195104Z_01_BTRE78Q1J5Z00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-SAUDI-WOMEN-DRIVING

Veiled Saudi women take photos of their children during a ceremony to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s Independence Day in Riyadh in this September 23, 2009 file photograph.

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed/Files

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, considered a reformer by the standards of his own ultraconservative kingdom, decreed on Sunday that women will for the first time have the right to vote and run in local elections due in 2015.

For the nation’s women, it is a giant leap forward, though they remain unable to serve as Cabinet ministers, drive or travel abroad without permission from a male guardian.

Saudi women bear the brunt of their nation’s deeply conservative values, often finding themselves the target of the unwanted attention of the kingdom’s intrusive religious police, who enforce a rigid interpretation of Islamic Shariah law on the streets and public places like shopping malls and university campuses.

In itself, Sunday’s decision to give the women the right to vote and run in municipal elections may not be enough to satisfy the growing ambition of the kingdom’s women who, after years of lavish state spending on education and vocational training, significantly improved their standing but could not secure the same place in society as that of their male compatriots.

That women must wait four more years to exercise their newly acquired right to vote adds insult to injury since Sunday’s announcement was already a long time coming — and the next local elections are in fact scheduled for this Thursday.

“Why not tomorrow?” asked prominent Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Hawaidar. “I think the king doesn’t want to shake the country, but we look around us and we think it is a shame … when we are still pondering how to meet simple women’s rights.”

The announcement by King Abdullah came in an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council. It was made after he consulted with the nation’s top religious clerics, whose advice carries great weight in the kingdom.

It is an attempt at “Saudi style” reform, moves that avoid antagonizing the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population. Additionally, it seems to be part of the king’s drive to insulate his vast, oil-rich country from the upheavals sweeping other Arab nations, with popular uprisings toppling regimes that once looked as secure as his own.

Fearing unrest at home, the king in March announced a staggering $93 billion package of incentives, jobs and services to ease the hardships experienced by some Saudis. In the meantime, he sent troops to neighbor and close ally Bahrain to help the tiny nation’s Sunni ruling family crush an uprising by majority Shiites pressing for equal rights and far-reaching reforms.

In contrast, King Abdullah in August withdrew the Saudi ambassador from Syria to protest President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on a seven-month uprising that calls for his ouster and the establishment of a democratic government.

“We didn’t ask for politics, we asked for our basic rights. We demanded that we be treated as equal citizens and lift the male guardianship over us,” said Saudi activist Maha al-Qahtani, an Education Ministry employee who defied the ban on women driving earlier this year. “We have many problems that need to be addressed immediately.”

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Sexual Health Education Still Inadequate

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

TMO Editor’s Note:  The following is a very frank account of a woman’s experiences before her conversion to Islam.

By Karin Friedemann

sex_ed1There is a time in every girl’s life that she looks to her mother for guidance. That time may pass, so it’s important to capitalize upon this moment. When I was eleven, I asked my mother if I should save my virginity for marriage. She answered me with the standard answer of modern America, “I don’t care what you do, just don’t get pregnant.” This was very unfortunate because I had been reading religious literature aimed at teens advising them not to have sex. I was willing to consider it. I was eleven, and my mother threw me to the wolves.

By the time I was 15 I got my first STD, chlamydia. When I was 19, I contracted HPV and herpes that took me years to overcome. Although youths in school are warned about deadly diseases like AIDS, nobody actually mentions how many bacteria, yeasts and fungi, or viruses are spread around through sexual intercourse every time. That point needs to be stressed: every time you have sex, you expose yourself to someone else’s bacteria, fungi and viruses, which are always there even if not to the point of causing immediate disease symptoms.

I think the reason I didn’t use condoms as often as I should have was because of my deep down conservative values. Even at 15, I truly wanted a child. I wanted someone to love me and take care of me so that I could have a child. In some countries I could have been married but that was not my fate.

All I can say now in my comfortable middle age is that it doesn’t matter if you are 20 or 40. Even a brief stray into the realm of casual dating could cause you to become infected with a disease. That disease could take you months or years to overcome through lifestyle changes and diet and prayer.

Do not underestimate the value of your chastity. Marriage is a hard road, but there is no comfort and security in casual dating. Marriage might cost you thousands in a divorce, but that is better than ten years of searing pain in your genitals. What people don’t understand is that disease is almost guaranteed when you have sex with a non-chaste person. 35% of Americans have some form of herpes. 80% have been exposed to HPV, which can lead to cancer. Even condoms can cause yeast infections. Vaginal strep infections are as common as step throat, but the bacteria can spread into the uterus and beyond.

So what do we do if we have already messed up and now we are facing the consequences? We invited poisoned people into our lives and we invited these diseases to take root inside our bodies. We have to take responsibility for that, and then we need to ask the Lord for forgiveness so that we can forgive ourselves, because disease flourishes in an environment of unresolved conflict.

We were given these challenges to DARE us to jump-start our lives and immune systems. I think when we become depressed or we hold anger inside we can get sick because people who should have been there for us were not. Even way before we noticed it like when a crisis came up. But nobody stopped us from loving ourselves but our own damaged belief systems especially the outdated belief that we need someone else to take care of us other than Allah.

For a newborn child, being loved is the same as life. If a newborn child were abandoned, he or she would die. It is totally natural for our bodies to associate lack of loving affection with impending death. As adults we have to stop waiting for affection if it is not forthcoming. That state of waiting will kill us. We are not helpless. It is just our baby self that is helpless. Even though we may have been abandoned, we would never abandon our child. And yet, we may still need help to care for our inner child. Imagine if you found a starved, abandoned baby. You would call someone.

As parents, in addition to giving compassionate advice, the best thing we can do to protect our children from viruses, bacteria and fungi however contracted is to make sure our family eats well. It can be hard to convince a teenager to eat anything at all, given society’s emphasis on calorie counting. However, the best we can do is to help our children associate food with good feelings and warm memories of togetherness. Eating disorders resulting in life long nutritional deficits that lower the immune system can be traced back to unhealthy emotions at the family dinner table, or the lack of any family dinner. Ultimately, a person’s ability to fight disease rests on his past history of healthy eating habits and a deep reservoir of love to draw upon in times of need.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.

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