Funding the Repression of Women

Massive oil revenues prop up repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have, for all intents and purposes, enslaved their women. I don’t think this is overstating the case. While it’s true that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive a car and where women are treated like second class citizens, not allowed to go anywhere alone (which is bad enough), it’s much worse than that.

Human Rights Watch, in their 2012 report, said “The Saudi guardianship system continues to treat women as minors. Under this discriminatory system, girls and women of all ages are forbidden from traveling, studying, or working without permission from their male guardians.”

Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur from the United Nations, reported that in Saudi Arabia, if a woman is fully covered or doesn’t have an ID card officials may require her to have a guardian present, which makes it almost impossible for women to make official complaints against the guardians themselves.

In a BBC article, Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz, the daughter of King Saud (the former ruler of Saudi Arabia) wrote about divorce laws, “Today in Saudi, women are either at the mercy of their husbands or at the mercy of judges who tend to side with the husbands.” She said it is extremely difficult for a woman to initiate divorce. It is up to the man to decide on a divorce.

And the custody of children over the age of six is automatically granted to the husband. And then there is the “Al Dali” law. “‘Al Dali’ is a sentence imposed by a judge whereby a man can stop his daughter, sister, cousin or whoever from doing anything she wants to do in life, be it marrying, working etc,” says the princess. “There has even been known examples of it being used to divert a woman’s salary so that it goes directly to her father’s bank account.”

In their educational system, girls are forbidden to participate in physical education. And in school, kids are “taught that a woman’s position in society is inferior.”

She also says that if a woman is abused by her husband, the only place she can go is the state-provided refuges. But there the women are told they have “brought shame on their families” and if their families are powerful, they are “sent straight back to their homes.”

This is slavery. It’s more than discrimination. These women do not have the freedoms their fellow male citizens have. The Saudi government uses the wealth they gain through massive oil sales to keep their regimes going, to pay for the standing army, police and weapons, to run their government and pay off their male citizens.

They produce the oil for $1.50 and through an illegal price-fixing scheme, sell it to the world for $100 a barrel or more. And because we have so far failed to introduce competition into the fuel market, we are paying for all this repression of women, handing over our money and feeling helpless to do anything about the fact that they are setting the price of our fuel and they are deciding where that money goes.

Because so many of their citizens are on the dole (the Saudi government uses their excessive oil profits to pay their citizens), more than eight million migrant workers are imported to do the jobs Saudis won’t do. But the “sponsorship” system in Saudi Arabia gives control of the migrant workers’ residency permits to the employer. A migrant worker cannot change jobs or leave the country without the employer’s permission.

Human Rights Watch says in their 2012 report, “As in years past, Asian embassies reported thousands of complaints from domestic workers forced to work 15 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and denied their salaries. Domestic workers, most of whom are women, frequently endure forced confinement, food deprivation, and severe psychological, physical, and sexual abuse…In December 2010, authorities made no attempt to rescue an Indonesian migrant domestic worker who had worked for 10 years without pay and whose sponsors were ‘renting’ her out to other houses…”

Again, this is slavery. And we are contributing to it every time we fill our tanks with gasoline. We’ve been unwittingly filling our tanks with slavery, oppression, hatred, and murder. Our cars are fundraising machines and we’ve been donating our money to cruel men with cruel purposes. Each of us should look into our hearts and find a way to stop personally contributing to Saudi Arabia, and by doing so help bring forth a viable industry that could greatly curtail their power by permanently stripping oil of its strategic status and weakening the Kingdom’s ability to prop up its regime.

The second most powerful country in the OPEC cartel has traditionally been Iran. In 2010, the World Economic Forum, in their Gender Gap report, said that in Iran, women do not have equal inheritance rights and they can’t be granted “guardianship rights” for their own children, even after the death of their husband. When women activists try to do something about the inequalities, the government targets them with harassment and imprisonment.

In an article in the New York Times about Iran, Nazila Fathi writes, “Girls can legally be forced into marriage at the age of 13. Men have the right to divorce their wives whenever they wish, and are granted custody of any children over the age of 7. Men can ban their wives from working outside the home, and can engage in polygamy. By law, women may inherit from their parents only half the shares of their brothers. Their court testimony is worth half that of a man. Although the state has taken steps to discourage stoning, it remains in the penal code as a punishment for women who commit adultery. A woman who refuses to cover her hair faces jail and up to 80 lashes.”

In Iran, a law was passed that bans women (but not men) from studying 77 specific college majors, including engineering, nuclear physics, and computer science. The new policy began September 22, 2012. Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi says it’s part of Iran’s policy to weaken the role of women in Iranian society. “The Iranian government,” she says, “is using various, different initiatives to restrict women’s access to education and to return them to the home to weaken the feminist movement in the country.”

Every time you fill your tank with gas, you strengthen these nations. You give them more power to repress women and to spread their ideology to the rest of the world. Every dollar that leaves the free world weakens us and strengthens them. Every tank of gas threatens women’s rights around the world.

We all need to get this reality to penetrate. We need to have these hard facts come to mind when we’re filling up our tanks, and to strengthen our resolve to put a stop to it with a sense of urgency appropriate to the situation.

- Excerpted from the book, Fill Your Tank With Freedom.

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