Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Western Franchises in Saudi Arabia

Via Matt: Megan Stack shares her experiences in Saudi Arabia. She doesn't like the experience. There, even in places like Starbucks and McDonald's, she's treated as the other. Not only is each woman forced to wear a floor-length robe called an abaya, but they must stand in separate lines from men. Stack asks a relevant question: "If I went to South Africa during apartheid, would I feel compelled to be polite?"

This is the complicated relationship liberals have with Muslim countries. We want to encourage human rights and equality for women, but we don't necessarily want to enforce Western-centric views, especially with military power. Matt proposes an interesting solution: boycott U.S. franchises that enforce gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia. The problem with this is that Americans are lazy and once a boycott is proposed you get people saying something to the effect of, "Well, I feel guilty that women are experiencing discrimination, but what can I do? I just happen to like my Starbucks."

Instead of bombing Saudi Arabia, for instance, the state department could be funding women's and human rights groups that are fighting this kind of thing. The bottom line is, there is very little the Western individual can do about how women are treated in Saudi Arabia. I agree that making one's voice known--writing letters to Starbucks, for instance--may help, but ultimately there will need to be vast social change in Saudi Arabia if we want women to experience the same freedoms there as they do here.

On another note, this story made me grateful to be living here (woo, patriotism!) rather than in a country where I have to cover every portion of my body.

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