: Girlie goes around the world

Girlie goes around the world

Freda Morrow

One small step…

Allowing women in Saudi Arabia to vote in municipal elections from 2015 is a small step forward, however Saudi women have a long way to go before their basic human rights are recognised and protected by law. As Ida Lichter notes (The Australian, 12 October 2011) they legally are unable to drive a car or have a coffee in public with a male. A Saudi woman has recently been sentenced to 10 lashes for driving and only a Royal edict reversed this sentence. King Abdullah has introduced some reforms including that Saudi women can travel abroad and stay in hotels without the permission of a male guardian provided the local police are informed. Some women have also been admitted to educational institutions and have roles in government.


The monarch is 88 years of age and power in Saudi Arabia is shared with Muslim clergy. Ida Lichter, author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression, also reminds us that in 2002 the strict application of sharia law led to the death of girls who were fleeing from a fire at their school and were beaten back into the flames because they were not wearing head scarves.

In Tehran the jailing and sentencing to ninety lashes of an actress who appeared in the Australian film My Tehran for Sale has been described by the director, Granaz Moussavi, as ‘unexpected, unconventional and unjust’. The actress Marzieh Vafamehr was imprisoned for five months but has since been released.

Damned if you Do or Don’t

In France two women have been fined in court for wearing the full-face covering niqab. Women have previously been issued on-the-spot fines but this is the first time the issue has been tested in court. The women have vowed to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Given that Belgium and some Italian cities have laws against the veils the ruling could have wide implications. In Iran a lawmaker has decreed that women who violate headscarf laws by not wearing them should be stripped of their passports.

A Woman’s Place

Back in Oz, Finance Minister Penny Wong has announced that more female directors will be appointed to seven major government business enterprises. These include Australia Post and the National Broadband Network. Speaking at a business function Penny Wong said the government’s commitment to having women in 40 per cent of government board positions will now extend to government business enterprises.

Ugly Pollies

In Girlie’s not so humble opinion, Penny Wong is a fabulous role model for women. Her South Australian colleague Labor frontbencher Tom Kenyon has a different view. He has said Penny Wong should not be allowed to marry her pregnant female partner because the baby is not biologically hers. Mr Kenyon’s remarks have been condemned by many other politicians and fellow Labor MPs have described Kenyon as ‘prone to making unfortunate statements’. However things are even rougher in England where ‘retail guru’ Mary Portas has said, ‘If I were Prime Minister I’d bloody restyle all those women. The female cabinet, what an ugly bunch.’

Equal Rights for Heirs

In England the Sovereign Grant Act changes the way the Royal family receives funding and gives female heirs equal rights. If Prince William and Catherine’s first born is a girl she gets to inherit the Duchy of Cornwall estimated to be worth about $A1.2billion. ‘The principle that should run through all these issues is that men and women are treated equally,’ says constitutional expert Lord St John-Stevas. Unless and until the 1701 Act of Settlement is reformed inheritance to the throne remains boys first.

Safe Buses

While the Baillieu government in Victoria is considering putting armed security guards on railway stations at night and in hospital emergency departments, in Guatemala women-only buses have been introduced to reduce harassment and violence towards women passengers (The Sunday Age, 16 October 2011). Congresswoman Zury Rios Montt initiated a petition pointing out that hundreds of women are subjected to sexual harassment and assault on buses every year. Luis Gomez, the vice president of the City’s bus service Transurbano has said, ‘Women have the right to travel in safety as demanded by law. It’s a shame we had to introduce this system, but people weren’t respecting women on mixed buses.’ The service has received good support and is expected to be extended. It is available for women, girls and all children under seven.

Commenting on the Baillieu proposal to have armed security guards in hospitals, one nurse asked, ‘Oh yeah. What are they gonna do to our patients? Shoot them? And are they going to use capsicum spray as well? That should be good for our patients with respiratory distress. We’d have to evacuate the whole emergency department.’ Seems like this proposal needs to be a bit more carefully thought through.

FREDA MORROW is a feminist lawyer.

(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 278
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