Female Saudi doctor appeals to top court for right to choose a husband
Samia fled to a women's shelter rather than be forced by her male relatives to marry a less educated cousin. Her case illustrates women's growing fight against Saudi Arabia's guardianship system.
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Efforts to hear the father's version of events were unsuccessful. Reached by phone, he hung up after saying, "I will not allow any press to interfere. If I get further calls I will take action against you people from the press. You are not allowed to talk to [my daughter] or discuss this."Skip to next paragraph
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He later sent a text message saying, "We are a respectable tribal family and this is a private family matter. Respect yourself and don't butt into our business."
Mr. Sudairy, who took on the surgeon's case pro bono, says he presented the appeals court with affidavits of past suitors who had proposed marriage to Samia but were turned down by her father, even though some shared his tribal background.
He also submitted a summary of the consensus of Islamic religious scholars that the qualities to consider in a suitor are his manners and reputation, his ability to provide for a family, and a known family lineage, meaning that he should not have been born out of wedlock.
A woman is not legally independent under the guardianship system, however. If unmarried, her father (or, if he is deceased, another male relative – usually a brother or uncle) must give permission for her to travel abroad, accept employment, get certain types of medical care, go to university, and, in many cases, conduct business in government offices. If she is married, her husband is her guardian.
Women increasingly challenging abusive guardians
Increasingly, women are challenging abusive guardians in court, according to the National Society for Human Rights. Last year the society reported that 86 such cases had been filed in the previous five years.
Women are also using Facebook to campaign against fathers who refuse to let them marry. Hundreds joined a group called "Enough Adhl!" created last year by a female professor in her mid-30s whose father has rejected all her suitors. "Adhl" means a guardian's suppression of women's rights.
The professor, who uses the pseudonym Amal Saleh because she says her father threatened to harm her if she sought outside help, says in an interview that she wanted to encourage women to demand their rights.
"If we complain against our fathers, the first thing that will happen is they will imprison us, not let us go to our occupation, and they may hit us," says Ms. Saleh, who confides that she had contemplated suicide but ultimately decided it "is not a solution." The Saudi press has reported similar instances, including women who defied their fathers and had been locked in their rooms for weeks.
Cultural tradition trumps Islam
"I am like a horse" to my male relatives, Saleh adds. "They don't treat me as a human being. They treat me as if I belong to them, and they should decide what to do with this thing." Many women never complain because they believe they must obey their parents in all matters, she adds.
Unfortunately, says Saudi journalist Nassrin Najmadine, cultural tradition still trumps Islam.
"They say they are following Islam, but the truth is they do not. They do what society believes and thinks," she says.
The surgeon, who broke down in tears during interviews, says she is pressing her case for the sake of her sisters and "for all the girls who are treated like animals in the name of guardianship.
"It's not like I'm asking for a treasure. I'm just asking for my rights," she says. "I just want a normal life, to get married, have a child with a guy I chose."
IN PICTURES: Behind the veil