Under Saudi Arabia’s, rather controversial, male guardianship system and amplified Sharia law, Saudi women have limited rights over their well being and freedom; one aspect being banned from travelling abroad without a male’s permission. Dina Ali Lasloom, attempting to seek asylum and flee from a forced marriage, was detained in the Philippines; facing huge risk and possible criminal charges for ‘parental disobedience’, and reportedly was pleading to not be returned, as she feared if she did, her family would murder her. Philippine authorities then placed her on a flight from Manila back to Riyadh. She is reportedly being held in a women’s detention facility under protective custody, as Saudi authorities continue to resolve her case.
Although many perspectives have been expressed about this event and the limited rights of Saudi women, I will be discussing the perspectives of: Grand Mufti Shaikh Abd al-Aziz Al al-Shaikh, head of The Council of Senior Religious Scholars; the highest religious body, having the responsibility to advise the king on religious affairs, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, and Moudhi Aljohani, a Saudi women’s rights activist and advocate. Having the highest religious leadership title of Grand Mufti, Shaikh Abd al-Aziz Al al-Shaikh, believes that, due to his strong belief in Sharia (Islamic law), men are entitled to having authority over women, and in Lasloom’s case, would feel that she was disrespecting the fatwas; a religious opinion pertaining to Islamic law formed by a qualified jurist or mufti, and should be punished for her actions. Al-Shaikh’s perspective, along with the current rights and roles of women in Saudi Arabia, derive from interpretations of Sharia. Within Saudi culture, however, interpretations of Sharia are much more extreme than those of other countries whose main religion is also Islam; many of these strengthening the authority of men over women, and reinforcing the the male guardianship system, a system based on these extreme perceptions within Saudi society, that legalizes a male guardian of a women, regardless of age, to make a wide array of decisions ‘on her behalf’. With al-Shaikh’s Sunni muslim perspective being shared with at least 85% of Saudi citizens, the kingdom has already implemented the Senior Religious Scholars’ perceptions into their law, and has institutionalized the religious establishment, along with their views on women, into governance structures. The strong religious nationalism influence throughout Saudi Arabia, and due to many excerpts from the Quran that have been interpreted into supporting the widespread belief of male guardianship, has both heavily impacted al-Shaikh’s views on women’s rights, but has also deprived the country’s women of their most basic human rights, and the ability to make decisions for themselves.
If the guardianship system, and many other sources, continue to stay in place, they will continue to dictate Saudi women’s lives. Many women would still not be able to obtain basic entitlements; such as getting married, exiting prison, and in Lasloom’s case, travelling, and may not be able pursue better opportunities for themselves, such as not being able to working or studying abroad because of their male guardian refusing. Utilizing the system, violent guardians could, and can, manipulate and twist it in their favour to control their female dependents; guaranteeing that women, will remain struggling to find help or seek asylum fleeing an abusive guardian/relationship, like Lasloom, when reportedly three apparent “Middle-Eastern men” abducted her out of the Manila airport hotel she was staying in, and onto a plane back to Riyadh, hands and feet bound with duct tape. Saudi women can’t, and won’t, simply lead their own independent lives. Lasloom’s case isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, if the powerful religious establishment continues to be expressed.With the event gaining a lot of publicity, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a public campaign, with the hashtag ‘#SaveDinaAli’, launched to call out on the Saudi government to shed light on Lasloom’s current situation on where she was, and to release her. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, holds the perspective that Lasloom should “not subject to violence”, and the Saudi authorities should “immediately protect” Lasloom from her abusive guardians and family.
One influence on Whitson’s perspective may be her utilitarian views on Lasloom’s situation. Utilitarian ethics mainly focus on the consequences of an action being good; Whitson believes that since Lasloom is in serious risk of being harmed by her family back in Saudi Arabia, the action of the Saudi authorities hopefully protecting her, will lead to the positive outcome of not having anymore need to endure the abuse from her family, and keeping her out of harm’s way in the future. If the authorities were to actually take initiative to place Lasloom under care, this would be a huge first step for Saudi Arabia to recognize an issue caused by the system. Lasloom would be able to get the help she needs if she decided to return back to Australia, her intended destination before getting detained, and seek asylum there.
This would be a huge first step for Saudi Arabia to recognize an issue caused by the system eventually, authorities and the government will recognize more of the issues of male guardianship and the suffering the women have to go through, leading to the possible termination of the government-enforced male guardianship permission requirements. With the lifting of these laws, Saudi women would gain much more independence to be able to have a surge of opportunities; including opportunities to pursue better careers. Allowing more women to be high-paying professionals and at par with the men, they would be able to contribute to their family’s total income, which could lead to Saudi’s economy growing after a long period of time. The lives of women like Lasloom would improve drastically if the laws regarding the guardianship were eliminated.Moudhi Aljohani, a Saudi women’s rights advocate, attempted to, but unsuccessfully, rescue Lasloom from being sent back to Saudi Arabia, by keeping in contact with her throughout the duration of the event while it occured. She learned of the situation through one of Lasloom’s friends, and feared for her. Aljohani felt very determined to help her, but through talking to her over the phone she said “Lasloom’s trauma became my trauma.
” Aljohani believes very strongly in fighting to end male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, which has been heavily influenced by her feminist views; she had recently fled the kingdom herself only last year. After eventually convincing her family to study abroad in the US, when she came back to visit the next year, due to her father being angered by her independence, she was locked up for the next eight months, banning from going back. She felt she was being completely mistreated because of the rights from guardianship system allowing her family to do this. However, she was able to escape, applying for asylum in the US. She, along with many other Saudi activists, started the campaign ‘#StopEnslavingWomen’. With her initiative and action, Aljohani also demonstrated altruism.
Although she was putting herself at risk of gaining attention from the Saudi authorities and government, through her hard fight trying to help Lasloom, frantically trying to contact NGOs and the press. she also gained attention from many human rights activists and organizations, including the HRW, who were able to get Lasloom’s story out there to bring awareness to the issue, unlike many other events with the same circumstances. Because of her experience with her own family impacting her feminism and the She heavily empathised with Lasloom, understanding “her anxiety, her distress and desperation,” leading to taking the measures she did, After Lasloom was taken back to Saudi Arabia, she was reportedly taken to a women’s detention center. However, there is no confirmation about this, therefore no one truly knowing where Lasloom is now. From the beginning, I feel that Dina Ali Lasloom should never have been detained in the first place; I believe that the fact that she was fleeing from abuse and violence from her family gives her the right to do so. Being a woman myself, I think this influenced my views on this event and topic to be more feminist, which is an ideology I never identified with until researching the laws placed about women in the country.
I have been very lucky to grow up in an environment where I’m being treated fairly as a woman, within a school that treats everyone equally, and within the Singaporean community around me where gender isn’t an issue; therefore I feel very strongly that Lasloom, and every woman regardless, should have the same opportunities and independence. Additionally, through my research on the laws about women implemented and the male guardianship system, and after reading shocking facts and many stories about Saudi women’s treatment in the country, my feminist views amplified and I felt even stronger with my stance than I was before. Recently, Saudi Arabia has taken many steps in the right direction, but the final step that they should be taking is ending the system completely.