photo by//madie miller
Although this insert has explored the many different facets of gender issues at West High, Layla Siddig offers some international perspectives on gender equality and women’s rights in different countries.
By lushia anson
Layla Siddig ’15 has experienced life in three different countries. Although she is of Sudanese descent, she was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there when she was younger. Now, her father lives in Qatar, and Siddig visits him every summer. Siddig believes that sometimes Western cultures may misunderstand the meaning behind clothing items such as the hijab, a traditional veil, and the abaya, a full-length, sleeveless outer garment. “I think it’s also important to note that what a lot of people in the West see as ‘oppression’ is just like, cultural norms or strict beliefs that people in certain religions have,” she said. “For example, people think that women wearing headscarves are oppressed, but a lot of women make that choice to wear the headscarf, and they see it as a way to be closer to God … so I think people misunderstand what’s happening: there are a lot of injustices and unequal rights, but things concerning dress are a woman’s choice.”
“I would say that, comparatively, Qatar is one of the more liberal Arab countries, like compared to Saudi Arabia or something, because when I go there every year, I have to dress modestly, but I’m not required to wear the traditional abaya or the hijab, so obviously, it’s still modest,” Siddig said. Siddig believes a large part of this “liberalism” is influenced by Western countries and the country’s growing tourism industry. “There’s a lot of tourism in Qatar, and more foreigners than there actually are Qataris, so they have to be more open about gender roles,” she said.
“Women probably have a lot less rights in Saudi Arabia, like you can’t drive: you have to have a male guardian with you,” Siddig said. Women are also required to wear a headscarf or cover their heads. However, she believes this religious conservatism comes from the government’s desire not to upset tradition. “I feel like a lot of this comes from the fact that the government is
pretty conservative and they don’t want to upset a lot of the conservatives in Saudi Arabia, so they just follow a lot of very strict traditional rules of religion or of that culture,” she said. Progress is being made for women in areas such as suffrage, according to Siddig. “[Women] are finally going to be able to vote in the upcoming election … which is very progressive for that country,” she said. Although Saudi Arabia seems to be making progress, Siddig still believes there is work to be done. “There are also a lot of crimes against women where women are prosecuted … like them being raped and they’re blamed, which I think is a huge flaw in their judicial system,” she said.
“When I go to Sudan, I get very angry,” Siddig said. “I feel very oppressed when I’m there, because … women are subject to a lot of sexual harassment on the street.” There are many restrictions placed on women when they go out in public. “You’re not supposed to go out
alone by yourself; you’re supposed to have a man with you and be covered up,” Siddig said. Siddig doesn’t feel like much progress is being made in regard to the rights of women. “A lot of the women I’ve seen in Sudan don’t feel oppressed, I think,” she said. This acceptance of the fact that sexual harassment is expected for women could potentially be problematic, according to Siddig. “A lot of [women] have also gotten used to the sexual harassment, which I think is a problem,” she said. Siddig also believes that the condition of Sudan depends greatly on the government, as it does in most Arab countries. “The previous president was all for religious tolerance and stuff, but he was overtaken in a coup by the current president, who was a lot stricter,” she said. “I have pictures of my mom from when she was a teenager and she was wearing normal things, and that was considered fine, but now you have to be covered in the streets.” Designed by katie Peplow