Saudi Arabia is one of the countries in the world with the strictest rules about how men and women interact. Women have to cover their faces and hair, because it is believed that if they have long, flowing hair, they will be a strong temptation for men to have sex outside of marriage. Women cannot drive because Muslims believe that it will also increase the chances of sexual sin occurring. According to the rules of Islam, if a man has a friend, his sister should not meet that male friend. These rules are all designed to increase the chances of there being no sex outside of marriage.
There have been a lot of misperceptions about what goes on in Saudi Arabia because of false reports by the media and a lack of understanding of cultures that are very different from Western civilization. Let’s take it issue by issue. First, a woman having to cover her hair and face might seem unusual to Westerners, but is it any worse than women having the freedom to go out and get drunk every weekend at the city’s various nightclubs? Young men have a high degree of hormones, and anything that helps protect them (and the female) from doing things that will bring shame and dishonour onto their families, is a good thing, ultimately. Wearing a burka does not restrict a woman’s freedom nearly as much as drinking alcohol. When a girl does the latter, she loses her ability to make wise, intelligent decisions. A burka covering the hair increases a woman’s ability to make decisions because she maintains her privacy. I will admit that when I see the more extreme form of the burka, where only the eyes on the woman’s face are visible, I find that disconcerting because it robs the woman of personality or individuality. However, again, is it any worse than getting bombed every weekend?
Second, Westerners often have a problem with women not being allowed in Saudi Arabia to drive. However, this protects women. Imagine if the car broke down on the side of the road, and the woman has to depend on strangers to get back home. Women are not as physically strong as men. I realize that it can be an inconvenience for men who might want to sit on the couch rather than drive their women somewhere, but I think it makes sense not to have women driving for reasons of protection. Plus, doesn’t every woman want a man to take care of her and do things for her? It all depends on a person’s perspective.
Third, and finally, another way of protecting females in Saudi Arabia is to restrict them from meeting with people of the opposite sex. Although I can see the disadvantage to this; namely, that meeting new people of either gender can be a beautiful experience and you can learn much from people, it does make sense, given that Muslims believe that sex outside of marriage is a disaster. What I would like to see is for society to go back to what happened in the early 20th century. It would be a good compromise for Muslims as well. Women could interact with men but in public, with chaperones, etc. Let me address one more thing in this article. People think that women are forced to marry whomever they are told to in Saudi Arabia. This is not always the case, although it probably sometimes is. One of my students told me that when he returns home after graduation, his mother will arrange a marriage for him. But before my student will even see pictures of this girl, the girl will already have seen pictures of him and will have accepted or rejected the possibility of meeting with him. By the time he makes his decision, she will already have made hers. So women in Saudi Arabia are not as restricted or oppressed as many people believe. Perhaps Canadian women are the ones who are oppressed: oppressed and kept down by our insistence that there should be no rules, when rules are actually one of the things in life that can protect us from catastrophe.