Sunday, June 3, 2007

Saudi Arabia - Veiled threat to human rights

Arab news discusses this interesting issue:
Forcing Maids to Wear Veil
Najah Alosaimi, Arab News
RIYADH, 3 June 2007 — The scene of a veiled maid walking with a Saudi family in public is a familiar one. It is also a normal scene when we consider how the veil and religion are closely associated with most Saudis.
Veils constitute an important component of dress for many women in the Kingdom, where it is considered a sign of feminine modesty. Interestingly, non-Muslim maids that work for conservative Muslim families are also obliged by their sponsors to wear veils in public. However, these women are not required to do so when at home and among the family's menfolk.
The reasons why some housewives tend to require their maids to wear veils vary according to the family. Some feel that a maid walking outside without a veil attracts the attention of men. They feel that veiling their maids protects them from annoying flirters.
Laila Al-Hilali, a Saudi researcher, referred to a contradiction in the way that some families oblige their maids to wear veils in public and ignore other "priorities." "A maid's appearance in public attracts the attention of the families they work for, who tend to ignore other serious issues such as how committed the maid is to her work, or how she treats the kids when the parents are away," said Al-Hilali.
Some housewives also force their maids to wear the veil. At a kid's funfair, an Asian maid who was taking care of some children could not stop asking other maids if her refusal to wear a veil would lead her to being sent to jail. She said that her employer gave her an abaya as soon as she arrived at the airport and told her she was not allowed to take it off in public.
Shariah expert Dr. Suhaila Zain Al-Abedin, told Arab News that the Kingdom's domestic work force make up a quarter of the expatriates living in the Kingdom. "This huge work force needs to be educated about our culture, society, religion and the whole point of hijab, which is a symbol of modesty and has been prescribed to protect women from molestation in public. Women have never been forced to wear it," she said.
"A maid should be treated like a human being by her employers, not like a slave. She should be given the freedom to choose if she really wishes to wear the hijab without being obliged... Housewives must treat their maids with respect and not terrify them. This may lead them to hurt their employers," she added.
"A maid should be treated like a human being by her employers, not like a slave." What a revolutionary concept. Next thing you know, they'll be demanding citizenship for the army of expatriates who work for years in Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries.

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