Is Saudi Arabia right to seek tourism amidst human rights concerns?
Saudi Arabia is changing, or so we have heard. More than a year ago, the main headline across global media was that with the notable efforts of crown prince Mohamamd Bin-Salman, or MBS in short, the ultraconservative country will start to shed some of the restrictions which many have deemed stifling.
However, the gruesome killing of Jamal Khashoggi severely dented Saudi Arabia’s aspiration to project herself as a country which is shedding oppressive social norms.
The Khashoggi murder, traced to the Saudi consulate in Turkey, has too many incontrovertible proofs. Though initially, there was a blatant attempt to deny that the dissident journalist had not left the consulate at all. This was done through a Machiavellian plot to hoodwink the world into believing that Khashoggi had left the consulate by using a decoy dressed like the journalist walking outside the consulate, to be deliberately recorded by the CCTV.
Surprisingly, the world has forgotten the grisly killing and there’s no brouhaha from the wife either.
Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights records
As per a Bangla Tribune report, almost every day, Bangladeshi women workers are coming back from the desert kingdom and their main allegations are torture plus problems relating to work. While the Bangladesh embassy says that this is happening since unskilled women are sent, there is no denying that deviant sexual demands are often forcing women workers to come back.
As per the BRAC Migration Program, in the first six months of this year, 2090 women workers came back from overseas with most from Saudi Arabia.
In the last nine months, 850 workers came back from the gulf state and, of the returnees, many are mentally imbalanced. Last year, 1365 women workers came back from Saudi Arabia with tales of horror.
On 28 September last, the parliamentary standing committee on overseas employment and expatriate welfare was given a report which identified 11 reasons for women to come back.
This report also states that at the Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia, 8 women workers take refuge every day, and since August 4 last, the number is 291.
Reportedly, at a meeting between the Bangladesh minister of expatriate welfare and overseas employment, Imran Ahmed, and Saudi deputy minister, Dr. Abdullah bin Nasser, the latter underlined the fact that many women were sent without proper training,
The “proper training” has been mentioned several times in the past when the mistreatment of workers from Bangladesh was raised to administrations of Gulf States.
One is curious to know what this “proper training” actually entails. Female workers have been going to gulf-states since the early 80s and at that time, most were not given any training at all and went overseas with the idea that they would have to do common household chores like cleaning, cooking, washing, and playing the role of a guardian for children. In short, the duty was that of a bua or ayah.
At that time, women workers did not return with horrifying tales of torture, starvation, and sexual abuse. The truth that no worker or recruiter ever revealed was that sexual favours were often part of the employment deal and mentioned euphemistically as: “comforting the master.”
Women workers who went knew that in some cases, they may have to provide intimacy and the issue never came out because the demands were hardly perverted, plus the monthly payment was handed out on time.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that workers who are going to Gulf countries are often unskilled. In such situations, the best possible course of action for the employer or the agency is to either give the workers hands-on training or simply send them back without any physical abuse.
Unfortunately, most women who are taking shelter at the embassies overseas are doing so because they are reportedly faced with deviant sexual behaviour and starvation.
It’s regrettable that while lack of training has been mentioned, no promise was given to issue strict warning to all those who are employing foreign workers.
Out of ten women, five may be untrained but that does not mean they have to face barbaric conditions.
Social system must be transparent first
As per reports in the media, to diversify an oil dependent economy, Saudi Arabia is easing restrictions on attire and opening up the country to tourists. But, at the same time, the country has to seriously take the complaints lodged by countless women workers from developing nations. As per a BRAC report, many of the returning women are mentally imbalanced.
This is where the investigation needs to start. Why did a healthy person become mentally disturbed? Simply alluding to lack of skill is like trying to kick the problem into the long grass.
There has to be something gravely wrong which is still not coming out, feel migration experts, adding: “Saudi Arabia needs to carry out an in-depth probe to detect the demons lurking beneath a conservative veneer.”
Head of BRAC Migration Program Shariful Hassan said: “We have been harping on the matter for two years without any tangible result.”
The desert kingdom has the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the bombing of civilians in Yemen, and the mistreatment of overseas workers to clear first before her easing of restrictions begins to mean anything for the globetrotter.
Since “training” is the term repeatedly used to answer concerns from Bangladesh, perhaps some special classes on humane behaviour are also needed for their employers.
What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander, right?
Towheed Feroze is News Editor for Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.