If you’ve been following the recent struggles of women in Saudi Arabia – one woman was caught driving and was sentenced to 10 lashes for the offence, a barbaric and medieval punishment which she only escaped after the king pardoned her – you might have read that they’ve been granted the right to vote, effective in 2014.
This is just the start of a long and extremely difficult journey for them. You have to admire their determination and tenacity in the face of a male-dominated society where women have very little freedom, let alone power – outside their house, at least.
Reading a list of what Saudi women are not allowed to do, I was horrified to read that they can’t even walk down the street without being accompanied by a man. I know this is the case in strict Muslim countries, but they often tend to be backwards, third-world nations, rather than super-wealthy and developed states.
Among the list of other things they can’t do was, of course, have a driving licence, and also have a personal bank account or own property without a man’s permission, and they’re not allowed to go on holiday without a male relative. Hen weekends must be a bit tricky. Women must pray that they’re going to have sons, because knowing your daughter will grow up with such a limited existence would be hellish.
This immediately brought to mind Franco’s dictatorship, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s. Under the permiso marital, women were not allowed to have their own bank account or property without their husband’s permission, and their movements were strictly curtailed too, limited to where their husband wanted them to go. The word chattel springs to mind.
Now please don’t think for a minute that I am comparing the plight of women in Saudi women with Spanish wives of 35-plus years ago, but it is worth stopping and thinking about this. It is only relatively recently that women in Spain have enjoyed the rights and freedoms which we have taken for granted all our lives. Those of my mother-in-law’s generation lived a restricted life, subject to the will of their husbands. OK, they didn’t have to wear hijabs, but dress was strictly controlled at all times (bikinis, unsurprisingly, were a big no-no).
So bloody good luck to the Saudi women. I hope they get to run their own businesses, as many Spanish women do today. Now that would be progress.