The Saudi Arabian Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) has issued an edict, or fatwa, that prevents women from entering medical clinics without a male guardian.
This comes just after a Saudi woman died due to rules separating men and women. Amena Bawazir, a Master’s student at King Saud University in Riyadh, died of heart failure when male medics could not reach her in time in the female-only part of campus.
The new fatwa states that women can not visit doctors without their male guardians, or next of kin, which can be a husband, brother, father, son, or uncle.
“Islamic law does not permit women to visit their doctors without male guardians,” said Qais Al-Mubarak, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars. “Women are prohibited from exposing body parts to male doctors in Islamic law, especially during childbirth.”
“This does not include medical emergencies. Islamic jurisprudence makes exceptions,” he added.
The edict has met with mixed reactions by Saudi medical practitioners. One private hospital owner in Jeddah said the fatwa wouldn’t make much difference at his clinic, since most women attend their appointments with their male guardians anyway.
“We don’t see women coming to the hospital as un-Islamic and we usually don’t even see women coming alone, so we don’t have a problem with this new fatwa,” he said.
A Jeddah dermatology clinic, however, said that it would make female patients uncomfortable to visit with a man.
“We will not ask our patients to be accompanied by guardians unless we receive an official note from the ministry itself,” said the clinic’s owner.
Some Saudi women are irate about the new restriction.
“This is going to be a huge burden for us. Many of us don’t have male guardians. Those of us who do, can’t depend on them, as they have work and travel commitments,” Muneera Dawood told Arab News.
“Does this mean that I have to wait for my husband to be free to go on my weekly checkup? This is a serious matter. Going to the doctor is not a luxury like going to the hair salon,” said the stay-at-home mom.