Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Test of Canada's Gender Equality

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Test of Canada's Gender Equality

Article excerpt

A SAUDI Arabian woman known publicly as Nada is in hiding in Canada. A warrant for her arrest has been issued. If arrested, Nada will be deported to Saudi Arabia, where like all women in Saudi Arabia she has been forced to live her life as a second-class citizen.

In rejecting Nada's claim to refugee status on the basis of gender discrimination, the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board Commissioner Louis Dorion suggested that Nada would "do well to comply with the laws of general application she criticizes ... or to show consideration for the feelings of her father who, like all the members of his large family, were opposed to the liberalism of his daughter...."

The laws that Commissioner Dorion recommended to Nada prohibit her, because she is a woman, from studying what she wants. They compel her, because she is a woman, to cover her head, face, and body in public at all times and to be accompanied in public at all times by a man or boy of the household.

Nada is a strong and independent woman. In Saudi Arabia, Nada was persecuted by almost constant ridicule, threats of violence, and violence because she refused to wear the veil women use to cover their faces and because she often walked unescorted in the streets of her town. Men would jeer, spit, and throw rocks at her.

She was also harassed on several occasions by the Mutawwi'in, religious authorities who patrol the streets carrying sticks with which they beat women who are not sufficiently modest in dress or manner. These authorities are legally empowered by the state to detain suspects. The Mutawwi'in have been known to threaten women with an "inspection of virginity" for violating the dress code or for being seen in public with men who are not their fathers, brothers, or husbands.

Finally, unable to live anymore under such oppressive condi-tions, Nada decided to leave Saudi Arabia. It took her three years to get a passport, and she had to leave the country accompanied by her brother. When she arrived in Canada on April 5, 1991, Nada requested asylum as a refugee on the basis of gender discrimination. In a statement to the Immigration and Refugee Board, Nada wrote: "I am being trapped in a situation similar to death. …

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