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Coming in to work, I heard over the car radio that Saudi Arabia has just registered it’s first two female voters, in advance of December municipal elections. Yahooo!!! I was so thrilled, I almost side swiped Titsy (my Corolla) on the highway side rail.

According to the Saudi newspaper, Al Arabiya, one-third of all polling stations will be meant exclusively for female voters. Of course that still leaves women with a tiny logistical problem – how to get to the polling booth by themselves, since they are not allowed to drive. And anyway, their hubbies might just refuse to take them.

Actually the husbands can’t take them to vote even if they are the open-minded sort and want to give them the freedom to exercise their suffrage, since they can’t accompany them inside. Unless of course, there is some sort of isolation chamber like the airlocks they have on the ISS, through which the woman can be whisked into the polling booth and out before any man can set eyes on them or inadvertently touch them.

Wait, maybe the Saudis are researching on ways to ‘beam across’ women who want to go from point-A to point-B, without men seeing them or touching them. I’m sure, Islam doesn’t have an opinion on EWBs (Electronic Woman Beamers). Click…whirr…swishooooyeeeouuuu…splat..thud..phew, that was fast…

For a moment I thought Mike Finnity, the radio host on my car radio, was nuts. For the first time, women are even being permitted to stand for elections, the process having been initiated by the late King Abdullah four years prior, in 2011, as one of the desperate measures taken to appease and ward off a Saudi version of the Arab Spring that was raging in the neighborhood right about then.  Around 980 women are contesting this year’s elections to 284 municipal councils.

Of course, Saudi Arabia is not a democracy and these are just municipal elections. A Saudi municipal council member can just about tie her own shoe laces without seeking permission – that is all the power she will ever have. Councilors are mandated to only look after parks and gardens, garbage collection and street cleaning, stuff that are usually carried out by public employees in saner societies.

And of course the earth-shattering magnanimity of the Saudi establishment in this pathetic effort toward women’s empowerment left another prickly question unsolved – how were the female candidates going to campaign? After all, Saudi women can’t drive or go anywhere unless they are accompanied by their male ‘chaperones’. Furthermore, they aren’t allowed to meet with and speak to prospective male voters unless they happen to be family, which makes it a flaming oxymoron.

This is not empowerment – this is barbarity, raised to a ludicrously farcical height, devised to keep a bunch of murderous Wahhabi mullahs happy.

I am trying to imagine a debate organized by Al-Arabiya for a Saudi municipal election. The female candidates are made to stand behind a curtained-off section of the stage. Separate tunnels isolate them from each other, as well as everybody else, otherwise each other’s male chaperons might accidentally come in contact with them and that would be catastrophic. At the end, each tunnel is connected to an EWB, to beam the candidate direct to the safety of her home.

The moderator has certain rules since the female candidates are outside his line of sight and he cannot talk to them directly. They have to shout out a roll number before they begin making their point….

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Moderator : “Candidate-821, what is your position on female road sweepers?” 

Candidate-821(Hasina Al-Walid Shooba Dee Bin Laidoften) :  “We must have more female sweepers on the streets. We sweep and mop at home all the time anyway. The roads will certainly be cleaner with female sweepers.” 

Male candidate on the other side of the curtain (Ibn Khalid Al-Fatah Khaboon Khakhla Bakh) : “I agree. Besides, you can run them over accidentally and it is okay as per Shareeyah, yeah, praise be to Allah. You’ll have only Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as sweepers, so it’ll be a piece of cake. Who gives a shit about them anyway.” 

Moderator : “Number-821, you forgot to say ‘praise be to Allah’. That’ll be two hundred lashes.“ 

*** Ugh! Ouch! Yeg! Swoon! Sigh! ***after fifty*** Gglubbubbgloog! *** 

Moderator to doorwoman : “Praise be to the most benign, the most merciful, take the corpse away. Okay, where were we… oh yeah “***turns to candidate Khakhla Bakh*** “You spoke out of turn – 2 lashes, suspended. You can go home now.”

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Here are a few things that women in Saudi Arabia still can’t do in the 21st century:

Vote

While legally all people over 18 now have the right to vote in Saudi elections, only about 131,000 women have signed up to vote. Considering that women constitute 50% of the population of roughly 21 mill and also considering that more than 60% of the population are over 18, that makes the number women who have registered -2.1% of all women in Saudi Arabia. The reasons for the lack of enthusiasm are obvious – (1) Refusal of male family members to accompany (2) Lack of an adequate process that includes transportation and logistics and (3) the sheer futility of it all.

Only 980 women have come forward and registered their candidacy for the municipal elections. If you are a woman, why the eff would you go through all the trouble just to get a job that asks you to get up every morning, dress up like a penguin and go see if the plants by the side of the roads have been watered, roads swept and garbage dumped?

Walk around outside, uncovered

Only the eyes, comprising of eyeballs, eyelids and the bridge of the nose are permitted to be displayed in Saudi Arabia. The dreaded Mutaween (religious police), are omnipresent and if you are a woman caught with even a millimeter out of line, you won’t get a ticket and appear in court to pay a fine, no you don’t, it doesn’t work that way. You get twennie lashes right then and there, in full public view.

Meet men who are not family

This could get you beheaded, really. Saudi women are not permitted to meet men outside of their families. Female family members must almost always remain in an inner room behind curtains, unseen and when outside, be accompanied by a male family chaperone in public. Everything is segregated – the entrance doorway to your house, school, university, workplace – every goddamn joint has to be accessed separately. All public institutions and places of gathering are strictly segregated. Unless you want your head to have an out-of-body experience, you better take the utmost care in this regard.

Be in a lesbian relationship

Are you nuts? Don’t even think about it. Ditto as above. The same out-of-body sensation awaits you. If you are a woman and you still crave p—sy, get your ass to the Red Sea coast with your partner and…. swim…swim…swim…

Drive

A taxi driver I used to frequently engage to take me to clients in India had worked as a chauffeur in Jeddah. His job was to drive his Saudi employer’s wife and her female chaperone around, shopping, visiting cafes and generally fooling around the city aimlessly. (Saudi women aren’t permitted to drive and therefore there is always a huge demand for drivers in the kingdom).

Now Ashfaq, the chauffeur, was a good looking hunk and very soon, one thing led to another and he ended up servicing both, memsahib and her chaperon. Every day became a long stretch of raw sex peppered with video cassettes of sex that he had never even known existed. The two women would exhaust him with their erotic demands so completely that by the time ‘sahab’ arrived after work, Ashfaq could barely stand up, let alone drive him anywhere.

It didn’t take long for him to realize that it was just a matter of time before he was caught with his pants down. That would mean a quick, straight beheading, no less. Passports are usually kept in the custody of the employer, so the next time he went home for vacation, he barely managed to get off the aircraft and stagger into the arrivals at Ernakulam, with just an one overnighter and a sore richard. Of course, he never went back.

Open a bank account

Do you think that if you are a woman, this joint will let you open a f—in bank account? Your husband dear is the one who controls the purse strings and therefore the bank account. Besides, what do you need money for anyway. It’s not as if you’re going anywhere, are you?

Live your own life after a divorce

If you are a divorcée in Saudi Arabia, you are essentially up shit creek, without a paddle. Your ex will still hold all the very same legal powers over you as he did when you were married. You will continue to be on your ex’s family card and depend on him for all your interactions with state agencies. For all major life decisions that you might have to make about yourself and your children, you still have to get his okay. This is covered under the male guardianship law. You can’t apply for anything, you can’t register for anything, you can’t authorize medical procedures on your own children and even on your own self, you can’t register your children in the schools of your choice, you can’t move residence and – here’s the best part – you can’t get remarried. And sex – are you kidding me? Thankfully, I understand that some parts of the law are being revamped to allow divorcées more freedom. Don’t hold your breath though.

Of the 142 countries included in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index 2014, Saudi Arabia is ranked 130th, a few paces ahead of its neighbor Yemen, which comes last. 16 out of the last 20 are Muslim-majority nations.

In 2010, a 12-year old Saudi girl named Fatima was sold by her father for approximately £7000 (he wanted to buy himself a car with the money). Her buyer was a 50-year-old man who already had a wife and 10 children. Fatima endured severe physical and psychological trauma until she was extracted from his clutches by a UN-sponsored petition to the Saudi monarch. I am not sure of what became of her in the end.

Aren’t you glad not to be born a woman in this hell hole named Saudi Arabia?