Foreign Policy Blogs

That’s Plain Sinister, Sister

Perhaps appropriately (as it contains ‘Black Friday’) this has been somewhat of a dark week. The Church of England decided against allowing women to become bishops, and Saudi Arabia (according to Al Arabiya/AFP) now sends husbands an SMS when their wives leave the country.

Women are already permitted to become priests and deacons in the Church of England, yet the opportunity for women to break through the “stained-glass ceiling” and progress to higher ranks within the Church is still being denied them following a vote earlier this week. I will make it clear right now that though I grew up in a (Uniate) Catholic/URC household, I am not religious in the traditional sense; I cannot argue the finer points of scripture or religious belief.

Nevertheless I — along with quite a few others — am dismayed at the decision, one which privileges men over women for no justifiable reason (in my eyes). I really don’t understand it. In a short video for the BBC, Anne Atkins claims that the outcome “is not a rejection of women bishops…As with any family, the determination to discuss a difficult issue until we’re all comfortable is proof of our commitment to one another.” She continues, at the end of the video, to note that she does not want to be part of a church which “blindly bows to the prevailing view” and that she favours protecting unpopular minorities. These are all sentiments I tend to agree with (up to a point). Yet I still feel that the motion should have carried. Tolerance and love for one’s fellow human beings seem to have been momentarily suspended. However, as Ms Atkins notes, this is an issue which has been simmering away for two millenia; what are a couple more years to achieve a credible, constructive and Christian solution?

For another (more favourable) view of the issue, you can read Mollie Z Hemingway’s article in the Atlantic.

However, I am rather shocked at the grandstanding the media and politicians have engaged in, calling it a “crisis,” along with suggestions that the state should get involved. Really? It’s certainly a sad state of affairs, yet forcing the Church to comply with equal rights legislation for example is misguided – unless being elected automatically allows parliament to ‘play God’…which it doesn’t.

Three thousand miles away, in Saudi Arabia, the state has decided to go that one step further. According to Al Arabiya/AFP, men in Saudi Arabia are now alerted via SMS when their wife leaves the country. They report a backlash on Twitter with pointed comments such as, “Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!” Apparently the move was initially to streamline administrative processes (women wishing to leave must submit a ‘yellow slip’ at the border, signed by a male relative/guardian) for those who had opted in; now it seems to be universal. However, a Riyadh Bureau blog post highlighted that this ‘service” does not apply solely to women:

“The so-called monitoring system is not just for women. The text messages would be sent when any of your dependents leave or enter the country. In Saudi Arabia that includes not only your underage sons and daughters, but also your wife (and other women under your custody) as well as foreign workers sponsored by you. Dependents are not allowed to leave the country without permission from their guardian or sponsor.”

He continues that this service has been running for a while but the recent uproar has been caused by its forced universalization by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). Continuing, he argues that “The problem is not that there is now an electronic system that sends an SMS when women travel. Some people might actually want this service. The problem is that the government is enforcing rules of male guardianships even on the rest of us who don’t believe in such rules. One day, MOI could choose to provide a checkbox in their system that says: ‘My female relatives don’t need my permission to travel.’ That day, unfortunately, has not come yet.”

So, one state is playing God with women’s lives and another wishes to. Apparently Jesus was a feminist, so how do we overcome this? Suggestions on a postcard please…