Australian government’s role in the stabilisation of the Solomon Islands in the
early 2000s was crucial to the restoration of law and order in the state. A
diplomatic peace initiative through the ‘Pacific Islands Forum’ allowed for the
Howard government’s brokering of negotiations amongst warring militias. Subsequent
military and political assistance in the wake of political instability through the
‘Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands’ initiated a peace building
process. This would lead to the disarmament of militias and the peaceful
resolution of ethnic tensions in the state. Allowing for the Solomon Islands to
re-establish law and order and provide for a benefit to Australia’s national security
in the South Pacific. Through the analysis of the ethnic tensions between
Malaitan and Guadalcanalese peoples in the Solomon Islands and Australia’s
bilateral relations with the Solomon Islands’ government during ‘the Tension’
period, a greater understanding of the reasons leading to the ‘Townsville Peace
Agreement’ will be established. Following from this analysis, there will be an analysis
of Australia’s national security concerns in the South Pacific with emphasis
placed on lessons learnt from former interventions in the region, specifically
the intervention into East Timor in 1999. Finally, there will be an examination
of the Regional Assistance Mission t0 Solomon Islands and the assistance that
was provided by the Australian Federal Police, Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade and other principal participating agencies in the restoration of
order in the state. The purpose of this essay is to show the success of Australia’s
intervention into the Solomon Islands helped benefit the state and secure
Australia’s role as an important regional played in the South Pacific.
ethnic rivalries created from disputes over land, movement and immigration in
the Solomon Islands created political instability resulting in the necessity of
foreign diplomatic intervention and a peace settlement in form of the ‘Townsville
Peace Agreement’ (TPA). The Solomon Islands are an archipelago in the South
Pacific region consisting of more than 900 islands, with two Islands being
populated predominantly – Malaita and Guadalcanal (Gyngell & Wesley 2007,
p. 227). During the late 1990s, the political process in the Solomon Islands
deteriorated and corruption created civil disturbance as the Guadalcanal people
(the Guale) and Malaitans engaged in disputes over land. For the Guale, lack of
infrastructure development to the north coast, perceived disregard for customs and
increased dominance of Guadalcanal by the Malaitan immigrants caused ethnic
resentment to the Malaitans (Moore 2018, pp. 165-167). This ethnic resentment
escalated into conflict with the formation of armed militias in 1998, first
with the formation of the ‘Istabu Freedom Movement’ (IFM) that started
dispossessing Malaitans of land and then the formation of the ‘Malaita Eagle
Force’ (MEF) by Malaitans with the backing of Malaitan sectors of the ‘Royal
Solomon Islands Police Field Force’ (RSIPF) in retaliation [see Appendix,
figure 1.1 & 1.2] (Ibid, p. 166). The period that followed from 1998 is
referred to as the Tension (1998-2003) as the Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara
and surrounding areas were subject to clashes between the militias resulting in
political instability and disorder (Ibid, p. 169).
A coup d’ etat in June of 2000 led by the
MEF resulted in the forced resignation of Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa’alu
creating increased political turmoil and a risk of destabilisation in the
Solomon Islands. Concerned with preventing this disorder, John Howard’s
government brokered a peace settlement through the Pacific Islands Forum in Townsville (Allen & Dinnen 2010, p.
306). This Townsville Peace Agreement (TPA) facilitated negotiations between
the MEF and IFM leading to these militias disbanding with an ‘International
Peace Monitoring Team’ (IPMT) set up to monitor the situation as well as
collect weapons for destruction (Hegarty 2001, p. 1; Barbara 2008, p. 129;
Scales 2007, p. 207). Despite the initiative of the IPMT (2000-2002) to
maintain a long-term peace in the Solomon Islands, ethnic tensions in the state
were replaced by lawlessness and corruption from ex-Militiamen joining
government law enforcement forces – renewing political disorder and instability
(Hegarty 2000, pp. 1-2). The breakdown of law and order in subsequent years after
TPA’s signing resulted in an incursion led by Australia in 2003, contributing
significantly to the longevity of stabilisation in the Solomon Islands.
Australian government’s involvement in the Solomon Islands reflects a ‘risk
management approach’ to the security of the South Pacific region and prevention
of continued destabilisation from the arc
of instability. The term arc of instability
refers to security challenges facing Melanesia (the South Pacific) posed by the
increase in terrorism, civil disturbances, transnational crime and political
instability in the region during the 1990s onwards (Wallis 2015, p. 41). In the
1990s and early 2000s, the arc of
instability was viewed with importance by Australian officials such as
Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Affairs Minister Andrew Downer. Both
argued that Australia’s security in the South Pacific relied on the maintenance
of stability in neighbouring states within the Melanesian arc [see Appendix,
figure 1.3]. Through bilateral and multilateral involvement with these states
in the form of financial aid, diplomatic and military support, it was argued
that the potential risk of political and social disintegration as well as state
failure could be countered – resulting in stability for states in the arc of instability and overall security for
Australia (Wallis 2015, pp. 42-44; Dobell, pp. 89-93). This risk management
approach to the security of the South Pacific was reflected in the Howard
government’s involvement in peacekeeping missions in the South Pacific in the
late 1990s and early 2000s, such as in East Timor in 1999.
Australian-led United Nations peacekeeping mission into East Timor in 1999 reflected
Australia’s perceived role as a responsible
international actor for the security of the South Pacific and provided lessons
to Australia of for future increased regional engagement such as with the Regional
Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2003. In 1999, the Australian
government – under authorisation from ‘United Nations Security Council’ (UNSC)
Resolution 1264 – led a multilateral intervention through the multinational
force of the ‘International Force East Timor’
(INTERFET) to provide humanitarian assistance and re-establish order in East
Timor (McDougall 2009, p. 188). This intervention into East Timor was prompted
by ethnic tensions within the state, human rights abuses and a breakdown of law
and order. Providing over five thousand Australian Defence Force (ADF)
personnel to assist in restabilisation of the state, Australia provided the
bulk of troops for INTERFET (Cotton & Ravenhill 2012, p. 148). INTERFET’s
objective started with police reform in within the state, before evolving into
rebuilding the state’s governance structures and transitioning the state
towards self-governance. This development was necessary for East Timor as it allowed
for the state to return to stability with law enforcement returning to a
competent capacity. The perceived success of the intervention by the Howard
government set a precedent for future action within the South Pacific region
approach under the Howard government was a departure to past approaches of
respect for sovereignty in the region under Paul Keating’s Labour Party
government (1991-1996). An increased regional engagement through interventions
in the South Pacific, such as in East Timor normalised as the Australian
government pursued a new role as a responsible
international actor in the region (Cotton & Ravenhill 2012, pp.
148-149; McDougall 2017, pp. 461-463). This approach entailed active engagement
in regional affairs in the South Pacific through diplomatic and military means
and provided a new lesson for Australia:
intervention in pursuit of state-building in the South Pacific could be
a viable means for regional stability and national security (Ibid). With this
in consideration, the Howard government again pursued an intervention in the
South Pacific through RAMSI in 2003.
Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands(RAMSI)
facilitated the reestablishment of law and order in the Solomon Islands through
the assistance that the mission provided to local law enforcement, government
and economy – highlighting Australia’s key role in the nation’s development. With
political instability, corruption and lawlessness risking the collapse of the
state, the Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza asked for assistance from
John Howard’s government in 2003. This request for assistance was accepted on
the condition that a formal request from the Solomon Islands’ parliament be
made (Gyngell & Wesley 2007, p. 228). Thus, giving the Australian
government legal legitimacy to intervene without a breach being made in local
national sovereignty or international law (Ibid). Through approval and
negotiations with the Pacific Islands
Forum, John Howard’s initiation of RAMSI facilitated the foundations for
self-governance that was needed by the government of the Solomon Islands (Gyngell
& Wesley 2009, p. 230; Cotton & Ravenhill 2012, p. 148).
‘Helpem Fren’ (Helping friend in Pigeon) – another name for RAMSI – utilised
the resources of multiple departments of the Australian government and other
principle participating agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and
Trade (DFAT), Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Agency for
International Development (AusAID), Defence and Treasury to engage in state [or
peace] building (Ibid, p. 229). Over 1600 ADF personnel were deployed to
Honiara along with 300 AFP to assist in the training of RSIPF, with the
objective of eliminating the lawlessness, corruption and instability (McDougall
2009, p. 296-298; Cotton & Ravenhill 2012, p. 148; Barbara 2008, p.
132-133). RAMSI’s state building mission in the Solomon Islands was crucial for
the development of the nation’s governance and infrastructure, with $840
million being invested by the Australian government between 2003-2006 into the
project (Gyngell & Wesley 2007, p, 230). This investment allowed for the
training of local law enforcement that helped to maintain law within Malaita
and Guadalcanal by the dismantling of weapons and crackdown of criminal
organisations [see Appendix, figure 1. 4]. Fundamentally allowing for the
rebuilding of the machinery of government and democracy in the state (Moore
2018, pp. 172-174). Operation Helpem Fren
completed its mission in 2017, playing a key role in the maintenance of peace,
reestablishment of law and order and development in the Solomon Islands (Ibid,
The Australian government’s involvement in the Tension period through the brokering of a peace settlement in 2000 and subsequent peacebuilding mission in 2003 during the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands was highly significant for the development of peace in the Solomon Islands. The Townsville Peace Agreement allowed for a peaceful resolution of ethnic tensions between the Guale and Malaitan militias – the Istabu Freedom Movement and Malaita Eagle Force. The disbanding of these militias along with the establishment of an Australian-led International Peace Monitoring Team to dismantle weapons and monitor the situation allowed for a temporary peace. The Melanesia arc of instability altered Australia’s approach to the South Pacific, with a more interventionist Australia arising through peacekeeping and state building projects in places like East Timor. Lessons learnt from East Timor allowed Australia to pursue increased regional engagement leading to intervention into Solomon Islands through RAMSI. RAMSI’s training and development of the Solomon Islands allowed for the reestablishment of law and order, elimination of corruption and rebuilding of the mechanisms of self-governance. This intervention into the Solomon Islands highlights Australia’s key role in the development of peace in the nation and stabilisation of the South pacific region.
Allen, M & Dinnen, S 2010, ‘A North Down
Under: antinomies of conflict and intervention in Solomon Islands’, Conflict, Security & Development,
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Barbara, J 2008, ‘Antipodean Statebuilding: The
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Freedom Movement (IFM), stop…,awm.gov.au,
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Cotton, J & Ravenhill, J 2012, ‘Australia, the
Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste’ in J Cotton & J Ravenhill (eds), Middle Power Dreaming: Australia in World
Affairs 2006-2010, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp. 147-164.
Dobell, G 2007, ‘The ‘Arc of Instability’: The History
of an Idea’, in R Huisken & M Thatcher (eds), History as Policy: Framing the debate on the future of Australia’s
defence policy, ANU Press & Strategic and Defence Studies Centre
(SDSC), Canberra, pp. 85-104, viewed 12 May 2019, <https://bit.ly/2HymdRz>.
Geocurrents.info 2014, Is There an Arc of Instability?, Geocurrents.info, viewed 13 May
Gyngell, A & Wesley, M 2007, ‘Case Study: The
Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands’, Making Australian Foreign Policy, 2nd edn, Cambridge University
Press, Melbourne, pp. 227-231.
Hegarty, D 2001, Small Arms in Post-Conflict Situation – Solomon Islands, State, Society
and Governance in Melanesia Project, Pacific Islands Forum, viewed 11 May
2019, < https://bit.ly/2Q5iyOW>.
McDougall, D 2009, ‘Southeast Asia: Indonesia’, in
L Caiazzo, C Cooper, F Eden & J Whitton (eds), Australia Foreign Relations: Entering the 21st Century,
Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, pp. 160-203.
McDougall, D 2017, ‘Peacekeeping from Oceania:
Perspectives from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs,
vol. 106, no. 4, pp. 453-466, viewed May 14 2019, <https://bit.ly/2Q6Fuxt>.
Moore, C 2018, ‘The End of the Regional Assistance
Mission to Solomon Islands (2003-2017)’, The
Journal of Pacific History, vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 164-179, viewed 10 May
2019, < https://bit.ly/2W8Npj5>.
Scales, I 2007, ‘The Coup Nobody Noticed: The
Solomon Islands Western State Movement in 2000’, The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 187-209, viewed
11 May 2019, < https://bit.ly/30rznIQ>.
Stephen, D 2003, Sergeant Adam Gilles of 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment
(2RAR), holds a rifle from a…, awm.gov.au, viewed 18 May 2019, <
Wallis, J 2015, ‘The South Pacific: ‘arc of instability’ or ‘arc of opportunity’?’, Global Change, Peace & Security, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 39-53, viewed 12 May 2019, <https://bit.ly/2VwfmwX>.
Figure 1.1 & 1.2 (Above from Left to Right): Istabu Freedom Movement (IFM) guerrillas stop a vehicle in the outskirts of Honiara in 2000 (Bohane 2000). Malaita Eagles Force (MEF) guerrillas amass on the outskirts of Honiara in 2000 (Bohane 2000).
Figure 1.3 (Above): Nations within Melanesia considered part of the arc of instability (Geocurrents.info 2014).
Figure 1.4 (Below): Australian Defence Force soldier in front of a truck load of confiscated weapons. These weapons would be later dismantled (Stephen 2003).
Trump’s desire to withdraw the US from Syria has sent shockwaves through the populace of northeast Syria who now fears the worst. In an atmosphere of growing uncertainty, solidarity from the international community is needed. And internationalists need to defend Rojava in whatever way they can.
When during human developments, current establishments prove to be unjustified and tyrannical to the requests of human dignity and rights – when these bodies only wish to subjugate, steal and dictate humankind – the individuals within a society most oppressed have the eternal right to dissent against, and revolt against, these establishments. Moreover, for those who wish to spectate to this injustice against human dignity, may it be known that those who are spectators of injustice are unknowing accomplices to tyranny. One must take a stand when the moment demands it. One must speak up to break the silence that comes from fear and inaction.
History shows that in every epoch, there are those who are willing to go against what a society deems ‘moral’, ‘traditional’ or—more condescendingly— ‘normal’ in pursuit of their own identity. Leading lives that inspire others to follow a similar course of action—from Rosa Luxemburg to Mona Eltahawy. These individuals do not choose their paths out of joy but rather out of a desire to escape what is around them and to seek out or ‘create’ a better realm. Often doing so as part of a minority, these individuals nonetheless fight fiercely for dignity, autonomy, identity and other values that make for a better humanity. However, this journey is not easy and many face serious penalties for even daring to take the road less travelled. No better examples of the cost for dissenting then in those societies that depart from human dignity and rights, such as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
One of the largest kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (abbreviated ‘KSA’) lays claim to many things; notably, Islam’s holiest sites—Mecca and Medina—and oil reserves that span across its large desert. For these many things, however, KSA also is home to an archaic system of laws that gets its reinforcement from culture, tradition and religion. Those who disobey or dissent from these laws have serious punishments to face, from imprisonment and lashings to execution via public beheading. (Dare to criticise the government and you will find yourself taken away by police, as was the case for blogger Raif Badawi who posted commentaries on Saudi Society and was sentenced to a thousand lashes and imprisonment in 2012. He remains in prison to this day, despite his wife Ensaf Haidar’s activism.) These laws reach all aspects of Saudi society and benefit those few who are wealthy and powerful. However, what is notable is the way tradition and religion play a large part in Saudi society, as both extend to the private sphere and defy the roles of men and women. Women’s role being the worse within Saudi Society, as is evident with the Male Guardianship system.
Slavery still exists, and it comes in a variety of different shapes and forms: The Male Guardianship system is one. Male Guardianship is a system within Saudi Society that requires women to have a male ‘guardian’, which is usually a male relative who must accompany and give permission to a woman for her to be allowed to do tasks. From wanting to travel abroad to wanting to seek an education or even medical help, under Saudi law a woman is required to have a Guardian who can grant permission. Furthermore, if a woman should be involved in a domestic abusive relationship with their guardian, then the guardian’s rights supersede those of the woman—under Saudi law. This means that should a woman complain to Saudi authorities of abuse by her guardian, the word of the guardian is listened to first. The Male Guardianship system is geared to favour Male Guardians. Denying autonomy, financial independence, identity and rights for women, Male Guardianship eclipses the life of a Saudi Woman and denies her a future by herself. It is a system that makes women slaves.
Moreover, the quality of a woman’s life depends entirely on her Guardian. There are guardians who are liberal in their approach and allow women to travel abroad, seek an apartment or work. However, and what must be noted, is that just because the quality of a woman’s life may be good in some parts in KSA, it does not negate the negative experiences of women who depart from said ‘good experience’. In other words, just because some slaves are treated better than others, does not deny what happens to the majority of slaves and the reality of slavery. As for every one woman in Saudi Arabia that benefits, there are at least ten others who do not. This must be recognised, as there are always apologists and PR spokes people that Saudi Government is more than happy to prop up, who will deny this and who will state how ‘nice’ women are treated in KSA. Others will justify the treatment of women by appeals to analogies, often along the lines of claiming Saudi women are ‘queens’ who must be protected. Even though queens are treated better than Saudi women are—having their own autonomy, as well as subjects to command—analogies like the ‘queen analogy’ persist and the privileged stories of some Saudi women continue to be perpetuated, unknowingly at times, by writers.
Mona El-Naggar, an Egyptian writer based in New York, wrote an article in The New York Times called, ‘I live a Lie: Saudi Women Speak Up’ in October of 2016 about the experiences of Saudi Women in KSA. In it are many powerful stories but one story stands out. Meeting a group of privileged Saudi students in Washington Square Park, Mona asked them about their experiences under the system. What was their response? “We don’t need to abolish male guardianship. We need to teach men how to be better guardians.” This is a slap to the face of those struggling under the system. By including this story, Mona unknowingly has undermined the piece she seeks to make. (Audiences tend to think that a problem is not as big as it is when there are two sides to it.) Many Saudi girls have escaped from their home nation, many desiring ‘to feel the air on their faces’. One example of those who have escaped Saudi Arabia is Moudi, previously known by the online pseudonym, ‘Sinner’.
Using ‘Twitter’ to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women, as Twitter is just one of the few sites not banned in KSA, Moudhi—like many Saudi girls—sought to give both fellow Saudi women and foreign audiences a window into the life of a woman in KSA. In real life a law student studying in the USA, Moudhi wore a mask to protect herself from both her family and the system. (Saudi Law, especially when it comes to studying abroad, can send back Saudi girls on scholarships for even daring to criticise KSA.) After a long time of contemplation, Moudhi took off her mask and voiced public criticisms of the Male Guardianship system. Despite the psychological abuse that follows her, both by her own family and Saudi males, Moudhi continues to raise a voice for Saudi Women. Stories like Moudhi’s are not to be taken lightly, as they emphasise what individuals can do and must undergo when speaking truth to power.
[Writer’s note: More stories will be touched upon later within this essay. However, there are a few stories attached in the appendix.]
Picture: Moudhi, normal face and wearing a veil
History of Oppression
Saudi Arabia in the 60s and 70s, just like most countries in the Middle East during that time, from Egypt to Syria, underwent radical shifts in culture as more of its populace experimented with art and discussed new ideas, such as whether the ban on women driving — imposed in 1957 — should be lifted (what should be noted is that women can drive in non-public areas and only if their guardians allow it; however, they are not allowed to drive on public highways). But these shifts in culture did not come without hostile reactions.
Ever since its formation as a kingdom in 1932, Saudi Arabia — initially under the leadership of King Abdulaziz — had to deal with trying to synthesize both the non-religious and religious sectors of its nation. Prior to its formation, Al Saud monarchy had a close relationship with the ulema — a religious body of clerics. The ulema adhered to a more orthodox version of Islam, “Wahhabism,” and helped the conquest of Al Saud monarchy over most of the Arabian Peninsula throughout the mid-18th through the early 20th century. This bond between religion and the state (theocracy) helped to create the kingdom, as the government claimed its religious legitimacy from the Wahhabi clerics in turn for the clerics being able to propagate the “Tawhid” doctrine — monotheism (an intertwining of religion and politics was crucial in maintaining KSA’s legitimacy).
This changed when British imperialistic ventures in the Middle East proved to be an obstacle for the Saudi government, forcing the drawing of strict borders with surrounding nations. KSA had to cut concessions to the ulema and instead pursue secular goals: non-religious national security and foreign policy goals. This muddled the relations between religion and the state. While more technological and secular influences made their way into the country from western nations, and a “modernization” of the country began to take root, Mullahs and clerics condemned this “westernization” of Saudi Arabia in their mosques. However, these mullahs dared not delegitimize the royal family, and when Al Saud monarchy called upon religious justifications for its proposed state policies, clerics did not dare refuse (this “contradiction” remains, as clerics “criticize” policy in theory, but legitimize it in practice for the state — highlighting something worth note: the power of the monarch). After the abolishment of slavery in 1962, pushed by Prince Faisalbin Abdulaziz Al Saud and in conjunction with international pressure from the United States and Britain, Saudi Arabia’s growing internal struggles and changes led to the abdication of King Saud and the appointment of his successor — King Faisal.
King Faisal introduced “radical” policies in the 60s and 70s to Saudi Society that would alter its structure. Through the pushing away of Wahhabi draconian rules and condemnations, Faisal was able to allow women the ability to seek an education and allowed for the creation of Saudi television — policies that cemented Faisal as a “reformer king.” This angered a great deal of Wahhabi clerics and religious fanatics, who saw these policies as a “perversion” by the West on Saudi society. These clerics were not alone in their attitudes to westernization, as religious fanatics throughout the Middle East grew increasingly angry at their governments “capitulation” to Western influences — seeing their nations step away from “pure” Islam. However, in 1975, Faisal’s reign ended with assassination by his deranged nephew — Faisal bin Musaid. After King Khalid’s ascent to the throne to fill void left by Faisal, KSA found itself amidst turbulent political winds, as nations surrounding it were grew involved in its internal struggles, from Iran to Iraq. These winds engulfed Saudi Arabic in 1979 with the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Armed with guns smuggled in via coffins, a group of insurgents stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca and declared that Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani was the Mahdi (redeemer of Islam) and demanded King Khalid step down. Allegedly receiving word from Allah while in prison, Juhayman al-Otaybi, the religious activist who led the attack on the mosque, believed Saudi Arabia had lost its way and saw it as an imperative to not only rid the country of “western perversion,” but to also bring it back to a “purer” form of Islam. Otaybi and his brother-in-law, Qahtani, gathered a group of a few hundred devotees to enter Mecca’s holiest Mosque during the hajj (pilgrimage). Taking hostages, Otaybi demanded King Khalid step down. This “mahdist” group occupied the mosque for nearly two weeks. It was quelled when French and Pakistani forces, scrambled together by the royal family in desperation to secure KSA’s legitimacy, stormed the Mosque, killed Qahtani and captured Otaybi.
However, King Khalid had to seek a “fatwa” (religious decree) beforehand from the ulema to allow those forces to be given access to the mosque to remove the insurgents. The ulema sought the opportunity to push for an amending of relations between the state and religion. In turn for allowing access to the Grand Mosque, it demanded more power to affect policies, which it received after the recapture of the Grand Mosque. This increase in power meant that the Monarch gave Wahhabi clerics more decision making abilities and agreed to help export its religious ideology (Wahhabism) globally in the following decades.
With the reforging of the alliance between state and religion, Saudi Arabia started to reverse the modernization that had gripped it in the 60s and 70s. The ulema began to impose stricter Islamic law (Sharia) upon the country: censoring media, enforcing greater restrictions on women and banning things like alcohol. Forcing women to cover up, either with an abaya or with hijab, KSA ended its liberal experimentation and started to enforce traditional roles upon Saudi women. King Khalid’s successor, King Fahd, allowed for the formation of the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices” (CPVPV), which intended to maintain these laws. It did this through the Religious police who were given greater reign to enforce dress codes, sex segregation (aptly denoted by some as “sex apartheid”), and the Male Guardianship system. If a woman was seen in public unaccompanied by her Guardian, then the religious police could take her and lock her up in a “care home,” a prison for women. In the education system, more schools were forced to teach religious studies. In this way, the ulema regained Saudi Arabia’s status as an Islamic nation and ensured “Islamic values” were spread to its populace — orthodox values as opposed to liberal ones. This “Wahhabi” imposition on Saudi society did not come without its resistance.
A small pocket of dissenters willing to raise their voices against tyranny and defy state law began to speak out over the years. This was the case in Riyadh in 1990, when a couple dozen women drove cars throughout Saudi Arabia’s capital. Knowing the risks perfectly well, these women took their guardians’ cars and drove them — in defiance of the law. Paying with the loss of their passports and jail time, such a demonstration only showed the desire of women to have rights and a sheer desperation of the Saudi government to keep its legitimacy through force. This spirit of protest from Saudi women continues on even in the 21st century.
Picture: Wajeha al-Huwaider driving a car in 2008
Moving to end the Male Guardianship system
The movement has blossomed with the advent of the internet and social media as more women gain access to platforms that allow them to voice their experiences under the Male Guardianship system. Despite KSA banning certain social media sites and apps, such as Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp, sites like Twitter and Instagram remain, providing a venue for women to write and share videos of what life is like in the KSA.
While there are many women who adopt pseudonyms to protect their identity from Saudi authorities, there are a brave few who choose to come out publicly — despite the costs and personal risk. Saudi women activists like Wajeha Huwaider, a woman who was arrested for posting a video of herself driving a car in Riyadh in 2008, and Manal al-Sharif, a woman who launched the “Women2Drive” campaign that sought to teach Saudi women to drive in 2011, both have been in the public eye and have protested the ban on women drivers. Aziza Yousef is another activist who is involved in the highlighting of women’s rights abuses in KSA. Emphasizing a couple cases in 2014 (one where a woman died on campus in Riyadh after not being given access to paramedics, all because of not having a male guardian), Aziza sought to petition the Shura Council with other activists to demand an end to male control over women. These activists seek to highlight the grave human rights violations that Saudi Arabia is guilty of and have inspired many Saudi women to take up a new mantra. A mantra that has since gone on to define a movement: “I am my own Guardian.”
‘“When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end. This is my wish. My name is Aisha. I am just another woman who lives in KSA.“-Aisha
[Writer’s note: full story, as well as many others that I have received, will be attached in the appendix of this essay.]
[Aisha’s story attached at the bottom of this essay]
In mid-2016, Saudi women took to Twitter to start a movement to end Male Guardianship. Tweeting under various hashtags, such as #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, #TogetherToEndMaleGaurdianship and #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه (abolish the Male Guardianship system), Saudi Women started to raise awareness of the harrowing experiences that occur regularly in KSA. Many of these women, which included activists like Hala Al Dosari, posted videos and their stories of oppression, and demanded an end to Male Guardianship and Saudi women’s liberation.
#سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه is the Arabic hashtag that many Saudis use to voice their concerns. Some of the stories included in this tag are horrifying and provide a glimpse into the lives of Saudi women. Many of these stories include domestic abuse cases where the male guardian has subjected his daughters and wives to torture, psychological manipulation, and rape — and has gotten away with it! Human Rights Watch wrote an excellent piece in July 2016 called Boxed Inwhich highlighted many experiences from Saudi women.
Exposing the injustice and discrimination of the system, the movement to end Male Guardianship has, broadly speaking, three goals, which many of those involved would agree with:
Abolish the Male Guardianship System.
End the ban on Women driving.
Acknowledge human rights for women.
However, in order to achieve these goals, Saudi Arabia needs to acknowledge how it abuses its own people. The Saudi government is reluctant to do this and at times denies its oppressive treatment of women. This is evident with it saying one thing to United Nations Human Rights Council but doing another within the kingdom. It is a sad state of affairs when KSA is Chair of the Human Rights Council of the UN. Prior to the current King Salman, King Abdullah had made small concessions to international pressure to give women greater rights. Electing thirty female members to the Shura Council, more as a publicity stunt than anything else, Abdullah had made slow progressions.
Within the movement, there are both non-Saudis and Saudis alike who do their part to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women. Those who are against the movement claim it has a “Western agenda” in mind, because of the involvement of Western individuals. This rationale follows the same conspiratorial mindset of those who claimed that Otaybi’s zealots, such as the Ayatollah of Iran, were “CIA-backed agents.”
There is an international presence within the movement, but what must not be forgotten is that the movement is for Saudi women’s liberation. Saudi women come first and their concerns for rights should be the focus of the movement. In a nation where a woman can have her entire life dictated by a male guardian, where this guardian can take away her rights to go to school or seek medical assistance and so on, it is imperative to raise awareness of her struggles and seek justice to end them.
The fight for Saudi women’s rights is just one of the many fights that exist in the Arab world. Across the Middle East, women undergo their own struggle against oppression, whether it be from the totalitarian forces of ISIS to the theocratic imams of Iran, each population battles for freedom. In these cases, there are those who have no personal stake in the issue, but choose to take the side of the victim and aid them in their struggle. These humans take up Bertrand Russell’s injunction to “Remember your humanity and forget the rest.”; refusing to be spectators of injustice and doing what they can to help; reminding those facing oppression to continue to raise their voices — as silence is what gives tyranny power.
The government of Saudi Arabia cannot ignore its populace’s voices forever.
Though it may try to, it will not win.
Saudi Women are too strong for that. Never forget that.
Artwork: Ms Saffaa’s art for the #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen movement
I do not care anymore for this life.
I have become empty inside, as a result of the abuse around me.
Everyone is against me and accuse me of doing sexual things that I have not done!
They make me out to be an oppressor, but it is they who support an oppressor!
When I was nine years old, my father sexually abused me. But I didn’t stay quiet, and I told my mother about what he did to me. It was the worst thing that I did, as he only became angrier and acted crazy. He expected me to be quiet, but I refused! Mother told me to tell her if anyone touched you inappropriately, then I had to always speak up. I never expected it to be my father!
As a result of me speaking up, he became very abusive to me. He would deliberately scare me and try to kill me, but my mother would stand in his way and she would threaten him that she would tell everybody about what he did to me. I was only a child and I would not sleep for some nights because I was afraid of him as he always threatens to kill me. He would tell me, “by god I will nail your head to the floor!” When we moved to another house I was relieved to find the room me and my sisters shared had a lock. I started locking the door each night but he would still threaten me that he would insert a gun from the window and shoot me from there. I spent nights sleeping in the corners of the room so the gun wouldn’t reach me. Why does he do this?
I want to understand why this happened to me? I’m a person who hasn’t done anything wrong, I was a ‘model’ girl. I did what I was supposed to do, from prayer to listen to my mother. As the years went on, he continue to deny me things. He tied to prevent me from going to school, but I would go each year and felt involved in a constant fight! Some days I was afraid he would see me and hit me infront of my friends. When I would come off the bus, he would slap me. Even my bus driver tried to stop him. These efforts were in vain, as he would continue to humiliate me and abuse me by telling how he wants to take me out of school.
He wouldn’t give me an allowance even. Everything I owned were hand me downs from my sisters and mother since I was a child. I used to wear my brother’s shoes at school because he was the only one who was close to my age at the time and I remember the girls in school would make fun of me since they were boys’ shoes. Even my name he put it in his company so he can prevent me from supporting myself (I never understood why he did this.) He refuses to support me and doesn’t allow me to support myself. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m experiencing severe depression. I’m always thinking about suicide, especially in the last couple of months. But I always think about my mother and my siblings and I don’t want to leave them alone.
He doesn’t even allow me to go to the hospital. I have asthma, and a many time I get severe attacks where I can’t breathe and my mother tells him take her to the hospital but he would say No, let her die. I want her to.
My father is just despicable. He’s the worst person ever.
He would lock me up in my room for days. My mother would bring me food from the window. Even the bathroom, I would only go when he’s not in the house and if he’s back I could never go in. I would avoid drinking anything so that I don’t need to go.
He’s always helping everyone, even some of his friends’ daughters so that one would believe us. When I call the police after he hits me they would ask me, what did you do? Then they would give me numbers to call none of which I get a response. So I lose hope.
When I called human rights, they called him and he lied to them and told them that he loves me and cares about what’s best for me and that he needs me at home and the worker believed him. He’s a liar. And when the worker called me again to make sure, my father threatened my mother, that if I don’t shut up he’s going to get an official form that proved I’m crazy and that they would take me forcibly to a mental institute.
By god everything I told you is nothing compared to what he’s done to me. I literally want to die. He’s not allowing me to live. He intervenes and prevent me from everything even what I wear. I dreamt of being a teacher. Or to just live a normal life like every other girl. God has gave him many things. He has many foundations under his name. Sometimes I feel that god is unjust. This oppressive man who’s stopping my life and future is just so blessed.
[Brief Note: Here is just one of the many stories that I receive from Saudi Women about Male Guardianship, which is a system that limits Women’s rights within Saudi Arabia. For security reasons, I have had to change the real name of this woman to ‘Aisha’, allowing her anonymity but also allowing her to speak about her story. Aisha’s story is just one of the many personal accounts of what women within KSA have to go through. This story will be included in a later article that I will post in November.]
“My name is Aisha.
I am a 23 years old Woman who comes from the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia.
Before I tell of my experiences living here, I wish to say just one sentence and I want you to read this sentence carefully, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” Let me explain why it is a crime to be a Girl in KSA.
Since I was five years old, I knew what the difference was between a girl and a boy. You see, I have a brother. When I was five years old, I was arguing with my brother who was at the time three years old. The argument was over food. I told my brother to not throw food on the floor, unless he did not want to eat it—it is wrong to otherwise. However, my brother did not listen to me and continued to throw food on the floor. It was in that moment that my father entered the room, after hearing me arguing with my brother. He beat me with his hands. Why did he do this? Because my brother was a boy and can do what he wants, and I am a girl and have to respect whatever my brother does, even when he is wrong. I remember having to cry in my grandmother’s room after that; it was so wrong.
As I grew, I noticed more and more the differences in the way that my parents treated me, as opposed to how they treated my other sibling brothers. Boys could go out with their friends, but I could not. Boys could take money and go out freely, but I could not. Boys could sleep where they wanted, but I could not. I noticed that whenever my brothers went out with friends, they never had to be accompanied by my father. However, whenever I went out, I had to be accompanied by either my brothers or my father. I felt like a prisoner who had to be accompanied, 24/7, by guard—all for being born into the wrong sex. It is not my fault for being born a girl by my mother.
When I asked my mother about why my brothers could get to do more things than me, she told me that it was because they were better than me. In other words, boys are better than girls; brothers are better than daughters. She told me that I was nothing without a male. “Your brothers can drive and bring things that we need, but girls cannot.” I felt so much shame when she told me this. I felt that I was nothing. I felt that I was cursed. The very fact that my mother could say that as if it were nothing, made me feel so helpless.
As the years went on, more and more beatings occurred by my father, and even by my brothers. It was only when I graduated from high school that I decided to change this. I decided to do all that I can to be independent. To show my family that even if I am girl, I can do many things that boys can do. I can still be a successful person, even without their support. When I told them that I wanted to study medicine or nursing at college, they laughed at me. My father and mother did not believe that I could be successful at this. However, I did not care about them, because they mean nothing for me. I believed in myself. The next day, I registered into my local university; however, I still have to give my father all the money the university pays for me to allow me to study, because if I refuse, then he will not allow me to study and will beat me.
First year of nursing was so difficult. I had to learn English language, because my course was mainly taught in English. None of my parents are educated and my father did not allow me to have a private teacher, even when I offered to use my own money. He cared more about money than he does about me. However, despite the difficulties brought before me, I managed to persevere and I worked hard to learn English, as well as complete my nursing course. I did all things to achieve high grades and it paid off. For once, I felt so happy. I did achieve some form of small victory. I graduated from nursing college with very high grades and I wanted to study abroad. I wanted to get a scholarship, but my father said “no”. He said it so easily. I felt that I lost hope. I became pessimistic; all my dreams destroyed, because my Male guardian said “No”.
Now I feel, whenever I wake and whenever I sleep, as if my body does not have a soul. I cannot study, I cannot work, I cannot Marry, I cannot go to the hospital, I cannot pay anything, I cannot visit friends without a Male Guardian. I am a slave that is forced to be chained for life. Some of my friends have accepted this reality, but I do not want to accept it. I want to break my chains and break my bondage. I want to breathe freely. I want to be free. I want to live my own life; be my own person. All because I am a woman.
Now you know what I meant by, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end.
This is my wish.
My name is Aisha.
I am just another woman who lives in KSA.”
#StopEnslavingSaudiWomen is a social media movement that aims to raise awareness of the suffering of Saudi Women under the Male Guardianship system. The campaign aims at ending Oppressive laws towards women and granting them rights. Please be sure to raise awareness about the movement with friends, family members and others. Raising Awareness helps in the long run.
Story sent by: Aisha
Blurb written by: Anthony Avice Du Buisson