Report on Saudi women gets child-like headlines

Report on Saudi women gets child-like headlines April 23, 2008

This was written by Vanessa, and originally published at Feministing.


When you thought Western culture couldn’t be more patronizing towards women from Muslim nations, their victimization and “powerlessness” might as well come with some infantalization to top it off:

Saudi Arabian women have fewer rights than infants in the West, a report released today claims.

The important thing about this condescension is that their lack of rights are compared to the West, specifically liberated Western babies. (Whatever that means.)

The (not-so) funny thing about the headline is that the report by Human Rights Watch doesn’t seem to mention anything about Saudi women having fewer rights that Western children. Could they have covered the fact that some women have to gain permission from their sons to travel? Or that Saudi authorities treat adult women like legal minors? This is a blatant misrepresentation of research that addresses some serious issues.

At the same time, Zoheir al-Harithi, spokesman for Saudi’s Human Rights Commission, says that the report didn’t focus on productive efforts to improve the situation as well as confused tradition with state policy. “We agree with some points and we are working on that as a commission for the government, but we don’t agree with the generalisation.”

You can download the full report, Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia, here.

Editor’s Note: While many of Feministing’s commenters didn’t seem to agree with Vanessa’s analysis, there were a few bright spots (sending love to Tara K.). We agree with Vanessa’s analysis: comparing Saudi Arabian women to infants in the West is offensive and problematic because it sends that tired message of, “Look how oppressed those Muslim women are. Saaaaaaaaad.” This message reinforces the cultural superiority complex of Western thinking which leads to things like colonization and “bringing democracy” to Iraq. Comparing Saudi women to western infants does not offer any constructive dialogue, and merely insults.

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