Fw: Saudi Women Find Freedom on Web (fwd)

Alexa Champion (alexa.champion@erols.com)
Fri, 13 Aug 1999 13:29:30 -0100

>August 13, 1999
>Saudi Women Find Freedom on Web
>Filed at 2:51 a.m. EDT
>By The Associated Press
>RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- They may not be able to drive, travel on their
>own, attend classes with men or appear in public without covering up head
>to toe. But Saudi women can now surf the World Wide Web.
>The Internet has quickly become an opportunity for many women to satisfy
>their quest for knowledge, which has often been restricted by stern
>``It whetted my appetite to keep up with the world,'' said Salwa
>Al-Qunaibet, a census bureau computer operator. ``It gives you more
>confidence when you can keep up with the world ... in knowledge, in
>culture. Why should we miss out?''
>Al-Qunaibet was probably among the first few women to use the Internet
>here. She surfed for a year before the government decided in January to
>allow local Internet service providers to operate.
>Before that, an estimated 40,000 Saudi subscribers dialed long distance to
>providers in the United States, Bahrain or Cyprus. Now there are an
>estimated 65,000 subscribers, and the number is expected to nearly double
>by the end of this year, according to published reports.
>AwalNet is the only one among 26 Saudi providers with a special branch for
>women surfers -- a novel addition to the ``ladies only'' banks, schools and
>shops that abound here.
>Women entering the AwalNet for Ladies pistachio-painted office can shed
>their long, silken abayas, comfortable in the knowledge that no man will
>gawk as they do in the malls or the streets. The office is snuggled among
>shops selling perfumes, shoes and clothes in a swanky shopping mall.
>Some 300 women have signed up after being taken on a virtual tour of the
>computer by an all-female staff, said Maiadah Al-Fauuaz, who headed the
>company's marketing section before returning recently to lecturing at
>Riyadh's King Saud University.
>There are no figures available on how many women subscribe are with the
>other providers.
>For Manal Al-Shiddi, a dental student at the King Saud University, the
>Internet was a gateway to the latest medical research.
>Al-Shiddi subscribes through AwalNet for Ladies, where she can deal with
>female computer experts, noting many women aren't used to mixing with men,
>and talking to a male trouble-shooter about a glitch can pose a problem.
>Saudi women do go out on family outings and with female friends, but they
>still spend long hours at home. Al-Fauuaz spoke of women, married and
>single, who have become such addicts they buy extra hours long before their
>three-month or six-month contracts are up.
>As more women enter the Saudi work force, more will use the Internet.
>Al-Fauuaz said a subscriber got her first job reviewing books she had read
>on the Internet. Others plan home pages to advertise goods in their
>AwalNet also maintains a home page with a link to a women's site with
>postings on fashion, child care and fatwas, or religious rulings.
>There is still much that neither male nor female Saudi surfers can see.
>The group Human Rights Watch has charged that the government has
>established a ``fire wall'' against sexually explicit sites and political
>ones that call for the downfall of Saudi royalty opponents describe as
>despots who abuse the country's wealth.
>The government has said its mission is to uphold social values by
>preventing exposure to sites deemed to undermine Islam or that are sexually
>The situation is similar throughout the region. Human Rights Watch says
>Bahrain reportedly employed foreign computer experts to screen Internet
>users who attempt to open blocked political sites. Authorities in the
>United Arab Emirates said they did not track users but acknowledged hiring
>a U.S. company to shut off X-rated sites, the Human Rights Watch report
>In Saudi Arabia, it's not just the government that looks on the Internet
>with suspicion. Basma Al-Rashed, an AwalNet staffer, said administrators of
>girls' schools object to allowing the Internet into their institutions for
>fear of what their charges might read or write on chat rooms.
>``A lot of the girls aged between 15 to 25 years old come because of the
>chat rooms,'' said Sarah Murad, a U.S.-born AwalNet staffer. ``I tell them
>to remain anonymous.''
>AwalNet's home page is: www.awalnet.net.sa. Its link, Laki Anti, Arabic for
>``for you, lady,'' is the women's site.