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Arab News - February 20, 2014

by Sabria S. Jawhar

The wisdom of men in the matters of women should make every Saudi woman embrace all that is Saudi society.
At the behest of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia), a new fatwa has been issued barring women from visiting male doctors without a male guardian.
So, ladies, the next time you visit a doctor, your dad must be there to make sure the doctor and the female nurse standing next to him don’t get any funny ideas about you.
As the Council of Senior Scholars put it: “Islamic law does not permit women to visit their doctors without male guardians. Women are prohibited from exposing body parts to male doctors in Islamic law, especially during childbirth. This does not include medical emergencies. Islamic jurisprudence makes exceptions.”
Of course, we don’t know what constitutes a medical emergency, but oftentimes visits to the hospital are not made at the convenience of the entire family. Yet we are expected to have a male guardian drop everything, including his work schedule, so he can make sure the physician behaves professionally.
I’ve seen plenty of examples in the past couple of years of doctors willfully breach patient confidentially, but now breaches are institutionalized by allowing unwanted family members access to the examination room to observe very private, if not embarrassing, procedures. It’s almost as if the law of physics has consumed government policy. For every action there is a reaction; that is for every positive step a Saudi woman makes in gaining her financial and professional independence, there is an equal countermeasure to guarantee that positive step is not without consequences.
Saudi Arabia is experiencing a crisis in the health care sector. We are all about Saudization, but continue to hire expatriate physicians to treat Saudis. We continue to hire expat nurses as well. We go out of our way to make it difficult for Saudi nurses to get to their jobs. And up until recently we have made it virtually impossible for Saudi women to attend medical schools to become doctors.
And it’s because of this dearth of female Saudi physicians that we must rely on male doctors — both Saudi and expatriates — to care for Saudi women. And that includes the fields of gynecology and obstetrics.
The very nature of Saudi society excludes a great many women from the medical field, forcing us to depend on men and further our humiliation by having a father or brother, or worse, a young son, sit in on a very personal conversation.
This means many Saudi women, especially low-income or with a limited education, simply will not go to the doctor, putting their health at risk.
The new measure further infantilizes women and is designed to restrict their movements and limit their contact with the outside world. It is also inconsistent with the progress Saudi women have made in education and employment.
There is a place for the Haia in Saudi Arabia. That place is to guide us along the right path of Islam; to ensure that we look to Allah for the right answers. They are not supposed to intrude on our privacy and take what should be a woman’s decision to deal with her own health issues out of her hands and place it with a government authority.

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