Saudi Arabia: For the Authorities Women Are Not People with Feelings and Souls


In an article titled "Women's Breasts and Their Importance," posted on the liberal website Aafaq, Saudi reformist and women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huweidar mocked the breast cancer awareness campaign recently conducted in Saudi Arabia. She said it is ironic that the Saudi authorities are so concerned for the health of the women's breasts, when they fail to regard them as full human beings with rights in the domains of education, family, housing, and employment. She added that women cannot be physically healthy when they suffer social and political repression.

The following are excerpts from the article:[1] 

How Can the Saudi Woman Have Healthy Breasts When She Is Psychologically Damaged, and Socially and Politically Oppressed?  

"Saudi Arabia continues to be the Land of Miracles. The contradictions that exist there continue to defy the imagination and the senses. The latest [contradiction] is the [new] preoccupation with women's breasts – this without making any improvement in the [women's] situation. In October 2010, an around-the-clock campaign was launched. Saudi functionaries in the north, south, east, and west [of the country] put every effort into an organized campaign aimed at protecting the breasts of the Saudi woman from cancer and at raising awareness to this [disease] – as though Saudi women are [nothing but] breasts, without a body, without feelings, and without a soul.

"This campaign, called 'A Woman's Stand'... included a fine and noble call by the health ministry, supported by several princesses and [important] ladies... to [help Saudi Arabia] break the world record by creating a human chain of 4,000 pink[-clad] women, Saudi and non-Saudi – the longest such chain [ever created] in the world. Bedecked with pink ribbons, these women convened at the Jeddah Education and Sports Center, and created a pink human chain, which is the universal symbol [of the campaign] to raise awareness to the dangers of breast cancer. The chain consisted of women only, because the Saudi law forbids [gender] mixing.

"To be truthful, one must praise this gargantuan effort to protect the breasts of Saudi women, who lack all [other] rights and honor. This magnificent campaign is a faint ray of light in the black darkness that surrounds Saudi women. The question is this: after this pink awareness chain breaks up, will other campaigns emerge, promoting other women's issues that are no less important?

"It is a well-known fact that one of the many causes of breast cancer is a state of mental anxiety and constant stress [caused by] external pressures. [Interestingly,] statistics show that breast cancer is one of the commonest types of cancer in Saudi Arabia...

"How can these scary figures be reduced? Are slogans, campaigns, and pink [human] chains sufficient? True, they raise awareness and enhance [the efforts to] combat the disease – but they do not have much impact on the persecution that women are subjected to before coming down with a malignancy. It's important to remind the directors of this campaign that Saudi women are more than just breasts. They are human beings who have the same needs as all human beings in the world.

"How can the Saudi woman have healthy breasts when she is psychologically damaged, and socially and politically oppressed? Isn't the Saudi woman a person, before she is a being with breasts? The women supervising this campaign – didn't it occur to them that there are many issues that need to be promoted in terms of protecting the woman's rights as a human being, and not just her mammary glands?"

"Where Are [the Saudi Woman's] Full Rights as an Adult, a Citizen, a Human Being?"

"Let's look at a few basic legal rights that the Saudi woman lacks, in order to complete the list of factors that cause Saudi women to suffer from diseases at a higher incidence than other women worldwide:

"Where is her right, as a girl and [later] as a woman, to engage in sports [activity] in order to build a healthy body?

"Where is her right to education, so as to learn what she wants and build herself a future?

"Where is her right to work, so as to become an active and productive member of society and attain economic independence?

"Where is her right to marry whoever she likes, so as to create a loving family and live a dignified life?

"Where is her right to enjoy her childhood without being sold off and married to an old man her grandfather's age?

"Where is her right to [receive] treatment when she suffers from an illness, including breast cancer, and needs surgery?

"Where is her right to raise her children if she divorces an oppressive husband?

"Where is her right to housing if she wants to be independent [and live on her own], whether as single woman, divorcee, or a widow?

"Where is her right to divorce her husband, and appear in court without a [male] guardian to represent her?

"Where is her right to enter the Civil Registration and Passport Department and obtain identifying documents for herself and her children?

"Where is her right for her [non-Saudi] husband or sons to receive [Saudi] citizenship and be adopted by her state?

"Where is her right to hold a position in the centers of decision-making, such as the Shura Council, the government, embassies, etc.?

 "Where is her right to drive a car freely, in order to manage her affairs and the affairs of her family?

"Where is her right to travel, which was enjoyed by her mother and grandmother before the passing of the law [obligating her to] receive permission from her [male] guardian?

"Where are her full rights as an adult, as a citizen, as a human being?

"Perhaps these matters, or some of them, are not up to the women who are supervising the [breast cancer] campaign, and perhaps [these supervisors] fail to see why the woman's breasts and her [general] health bear any connection to the degrading conditions of her everyday life and to her [poor] mental health. And perhaps it is difficult to talk about these matters [at all] as long as the leaders of the state do not really wish to improve the situation of women, so it is pointless to waste any time and effort on this...

"The questions continue to spin in our minds without answer: Until when will the situation of the Saudi woman continue to be the worst in the world? And until when will the leaders of this country remain uninterested in [the women's] demands?..."  

Women form a living pink ribbon as part of the "A Woman's Stand" campaign

Image source:, October 30, 2010

Endnote: [1], October 29, 2010.