Saudi Arabia’s University of Qassim played host to one of the biggest women’s rights conferences in the Arab world. However, the university didn’t think it wise to ensure female attendance. Surprisingly, the institution managed to hold the event without the advice or attendance of a single woman.
In 2012, the University of Qassim — one of the largest educational institutes in Saudi Arabia — decided to organize a Women’s Rights Conference. The event was supposed to be an annual affair. As expected from such conferences, the event was meant to serve as a platform to discuss women’s rights.
Intelligently themed around the topic of “Women in Society,” the conference was supposed to set a benchmark for tolerance and progress in the region. The Saudi university even invited delegates from other nations to be a part of this historic event. Interested and eager, delegates and speakers from more than 15 countries showed up.
However, as is expected from Saudi Arabia — a country firmly ruled by its own interpretation of the Sharia Law — there were no women in attendance for a conference meant to discuss their rights. Still, some “academicians” stress that, though the conference might seem devoid of any females, they could be “attending” the conference from an adjacent building.
The fact that there were no women even at the podium for a women’s rights conference merely corroborates the commitment of the country to keep gender segregation alive and kicking. However, as per the “official” Arab newspaper Okaz, which ran the story last year, two women did attend the conference. But the newspaper didn’t confirm where they were seated for this historic event that discussed the hotly-avoided topic of women’s rights.
Though there are multiple prophets who interpret Sharia Law as per their own understanding, as per Saudi Arabia’s understanding, women are never to seat right next to men, even during such intimate occasions as a marriage.
Saudi Arabia is one of the small clusters of Muslim countries that do not accord even basic human rights to women. Besides mandating a male chaperone every time a woman steps out, Saudi Arabia prohibits a woman from stepping out after sunset or even driving on the roads.
Hence, this conference was certainly a surprise for international media, which hoped Saudi Arabia might be softening its hardened stand against women’s rights. Unfortunately, the conference merely cemented it. It comes as no surprise that Saudi Arabia is still ranked 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity.
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