Women Rights Essay Example. Political Oppression of Saudi Arabian Women

Historically, women have been looked down upon, treated as inferiors, and seen as less than men. They have faced centuries of oppression and are still overcoming narrow minded patriarchs.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in religious countries in the middle east, like Saudi Arabia. Not only are women in these societies belittled by their male superiors, they are restricted by unethical laws. Women can play an incredibly influential role in societies and encomonimes when given the chance, but in patriarchal societies they are deprived of these opportunities. What political factors are deterring Saudi Arabian women from making an impact on their society? 

Saudi Arabia has been systematically segregating the women in their country for as long as the country has existed. Their laws are based solely on their interpretation of different religious readings, like the Quran. Due to this, “The kingdom`s government is deemed to advocate for and impose sex segregation in its totality” (Rajkhan).  They interpret these readings in a way that makes women out to be objects given to their fathers and husbands for lifelong control. In the research report by Rajikan, a sociology student at the University of Washington Bothell, she elaborates on the misconceptions made by the men in power when it comes to women and how they should be controlled, and the ramifications it has on the lives of Saudi women. Women are bred into this society of unequal treatment and are subject to these devaluating laws and systems. 

The Roots of Women Rights Violation 

The main source of degradation towards women comes from the male guardianship system established by the Saudi government in the late twentieth century. The guardianship program was set up by the government to assure that a woman would be restrained by a man for the entire duration of their lives. From the standpoint of government officials, the guardianship system is a flawless way to keep women safe and monitored at all times. (Human Rights Watch, “Boxed In”) The article from Human Rights Watch (HRW) explained the reasons behind the restrictive system set in place by the government, as well as the implications it has on the women of the country. An array of women were asked by HRW to elaborate on how the guardianship system has affected their lives. The concurrence of the answers was that it makes them feel like they have no control over their own lives and they have to live in the boxes that their fathers, husbands, brothers, and even sons draw for them. 

Correspondingly, the male guardianship system is a controversial discussion that occurs most often when it comes to reforms that need to be made in this restrictive country. According to HRW,  “Until the guardianship system is removed entirely, Saudi Arabia will remain in violation of its human rights obligations and unable to realize its Vision 2030, the country’s “vision for the future,” that declares women—half of the country’s population—to be a “great asset” whose talents will be developed for the good of the country’s society and economy” (Human Rights Watch, “Boxed In”). This insight by HRW elaborates on the statement that the male guardianship system must be abolished, not only for women rights but also for the country to keep their political promises.

Although, government officials have no plans to abolish the systems that restrict and oppress the women of their countries, many countries have voiced their opinions and ideas for reforms, and some members of the Saudi Arabian community have fled to escape the persecution and lack of opportunities they receive in their native countries. TIME Magazine published an article (Kong), alongside producing a video, that interviewed two Saudi sisters that had absconded their homeland and taken refuge in Hong Kong. “It was the lack of change after a 2016 hashtag campaign against Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws that finally pushed Reem to flee what she described as her country’s system of female enslavement” (Kong). 

Reem, the alias used by one sister to assure their privacy as they were still being sought out by Saudi Arabian officials and family members, and her sister proved their courage by removing themselves from the malignant society. According to Kong’s article, the sisters learned about liberties that women all around the world, especially in the United States, had and, consequently decided that they were going to emancipate themselves from the inadequate community they had been a part of. They yearned for these simple freedoms; going outside, going to the store, traveling, and obtaining passports without being chaperoned by a man. The thought of these abilities inspired the women to put their old lives behind them and start over, in a completely foreign place. The calamitous story of these sisters’ fight for freedom put the true terror imposed by the Saudi government into perspective. These are real people being tyrannized by narrow-minded autocrats. 

In past years, Saudi Arabia has ranked exceptionally low among other countries in terms of gender equality. In the words of Roumaissaa Tailassane, a research student attending Ursinus College, “In 2006, Saudi Arabia ranked 114th out of 115 countries in Global Gender Gap score coming in dead last in terms of economic participation and opportunity as well as political empowerment”(Tailassane).  She abundantly explains Saudi Arabian laws and limitations in comparison to patriarchal societies, like Iran and Turkey. Her use of graphs, real world statistics and references to esteemed human rights researchers fills the report with conceivable and conclusive information; therefore, allowing readers the ability to not only trust but insinuate her report into their own. 

With this in mind, Pakistan is another country that is able to be compared to the harsh ways of the Saudi Arabians. Malala Yousafzai (Malala), a Pakistani children’s educational rights activist, has faced persecution for her desire for education with the adversity that the Taliban faced her with. According to Malala’s autobiography, I am Malala, Pakistani women were subject to almost the same amount of chaperoning as Saudi women and were property of their fathers and husbands over the span of their lives. The quote, “We felt like the Taliban saw us as little dolls to control, telling us what to do and how to dress. I thought if God wanted us to be like that He wouldn’t have made us all different,” (Yousafzai 124) coincides with the former thought of the misinterpretations of religious teachings by radicals to justify their sacreligious behavior. Saudi Arabian women face the same problems that Pakistani women and children did before they had an astute advocate, like Malala, to bring attention, awareness, and action to their cause. 

The New Reforms Against Violation of Women Rights

On the contrary, the Saudi Arabian government has made reforms to peel back the limitations that hold their gender gap in place. The 2020 World Report published by the Human Rights Watch stated, “Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers promulgated landmark amendments to the three laws that will begin to dismantle the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.” These amendments include the following items: women over twenty one are allowed to obtain their personal passports, women over twenty one are allowed to travel abroad without male guardians permission, and women can now be classified as “workers” which eliminates the ability for employers to deny or discriminate against employees based on sex (Director).  Although it is too soon to see the effects of these changes, researched and reported by writers at the Human Rights Watch organization, they are crucial advances in disassembling the guardianship system that shadows Saudi Arabian society. 

In summation, until the male guardianship system is abolished in its entirety, the gender gap in Saudi Arabia will never close. Women will not be allowed to reach their economic and societal potential without the complete amendment to this unethical law. One more solution to the issue of equality, would be education that is even for all children, boys and girls, rich and poor, to equalize their futures. Full economic and societal possibility can only be achieved once every citizen of Saudi Arabia has equal and adequate opportunities.   

Works Cited 

“Boxed In.” Human Rights Watch, 17 July 2016, 


Director, Kenneth. “World Report 2020: Rights Trends in Saudi Arabia.” Human Rights Watch, 

12 Dec. 2019, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/saudi-arabia.

Kong, Laignee. “Saudi Sisters Describe the Oppressive Society They Fled.” Time, 26 Feb. 2019, 


Rajkhan, S.. “Women in Saudi Arabia: Status, Rights, and Limitations.” (2014).

Tailassane, Roumaissaa. Women’s Rights and Representation in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey: 

The Patriarchal Domination of Religious Interpretations. International Relation Honors Papers, 2019, p. 116, https://digitalcommons.ursinus.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=int_hon.

Yousafzai, Malala, and Christian Lamb. I am Malala: the Girl Who Stood up for Education and 

Was Shot by the Taliban. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an Imprint of the Orion Publishing Group Ltd., 2013. 



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