The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women turn men to escape bias

Riyadh, April 3 (Agencies): Tired of playing second fiddle to men in conservative Saudi Arabia, five women decided if you can’t beat them, join them.

Al Watan newspaper has reported that the women underwent sex-change surgery abroad over the past 12 months after they developed a “psychological complex” because of male domination.

Women in Saudi Arabia, which adopts an austere interpretation of Islam, are not allowed to drive. They are expected to fully cover up in public and can go out only if accompanied by a close male relative.

The five women hoped that having changed their sex, they could now enjoy all the privileges of Saudi society bestowed on men. But it wasn’t clear if this would happen or whether they might be stigmatised and become outcasts.

Some Saudi officials have reportedly blamed the five women’s decision on their “psychological defects” and the blasphemous influence of the West. Al Watan quoted a senior cleric as saying the authorities must fill what he described as a legal vacuum by issuing laws against sex-change operations.

But the country’s leading psychology expert, Mohamed Abdelmawjoud, told the newspaper that the authorities didn’t try to disrupt the operations that took place over a year.

An interior ministry official said cases like this are looked at by religious authorities and sometimes psychologists, but rarely end up with an arrest. Al Azhar, the highest Sunni authority in Egypt, recently issued a fatwa saying a sex change wasn’t un-Islamic.

Saudi women cannot take part in elections, do not enjoy equal educational opportunities and can work only in certain professions cleared by the government. They need written permission from their male guardians to travel, work or study.

In small signs of change, though, women have recently been allowed to take positions on the board of the country’s first human rights body, and this year, a woman was elected as a director of the journalists’ union.

Unlike the five who changed their sex, many women are becoming vocal in demanding equal rights, though this can sometimes have unpleasant consequences.

Fourteen years ago, a group of 47 educated women from well-to-do families took part in an unprecedented protest against the driving ban.

They drove a convoy of cars in Riyadh and were immediately detained for hours till their male relatives gave it in writing that these women wouldn’t flout the ban again. Those among the protesters who had public sector jobs were sacked.

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