Editorial: Women . . . two worlds apart


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A 75-year-old Syrian widow has been sentenced by a Saudi Arabian court to 40 lashes, four months of imprisonment, and deportation for having committed the apparently unforgivable offence of “mingling.”

In short, her great crime was to invite into her home two young men who were simply delivering five loaves of bread, but were not related to her by blood.

According to cnn.com, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi was arrested when a member of the “religious police” a.k.a. the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, entered her home and found the men - Hadian and Fahd, both 24 - inside.

Fahd, a nephew of the woman’s deceased husband, believed he had a right to be there because Sawadi breast-fed him as a baby and was thus a son to her in Islam.

The other man was his business partner who had merely escorted him on the kind mission for his aunt. In news reports, it’s conceded by a lawyer that the widow is not considered a “seductress” but the law doesn’t account for the age of women accused of the offence.

Whipping as punishment to anyone is barbaric, but 40 lashes to an elderly woman? It’s vile stuff. In this case it could be a death sentence.

Curiously, word of Sawadi’s plight emerged in the media two days after International Women’s Day was celebrated, though we suspect it’s probably not a national holiday in Saudi Arabia.

In the news business, sometimes events that can be tied together by irony occur in clusters. For example, four days prior to IWD, the UN secretary general’s database on violence against women was launched at UN Headquarters in New York. (Someone might want to slip them a note concerning Sawadi’s case.)

Countries around the globe recognized IWD which was declared in 1910 by German socialist leader Clara Zetkin as a day of solidarity and a marking of the battle of women for equal rights. That’s 99 years and counting . . . 24 years before Sawadi’s birth.

The day was marked by Ontario’s legal community with a forum at the Law Society of Upper Canada. A press release about the celebration noted that 19 years ago the late Supreme Court justice Bertha Wilson asked, “Will women judges really make a difference?”

The forum of high-profile legal experts followed up on Wilson’s question giving their views on “whether female judges have made a difference in legal decision making, legal culture, and administering justice.”

 According to the release the topic was inspired by the “dramatic increase in the number of women in all areas of the legal profession in recent years, including the judiciary. There has been much debate, commentary, and academic writing about the influence of gender on judicial decision making.” It’s interesting that we’re still pondering the question . . .

Meanwhile the legal fraternity lost a bright light in the women’s leadership community with the passing of Stikeman Elliott LLP senior partner Alison Youngman - on IWD.

Youngman focused many of her efforts on the advancement of women’s interests and was named by the YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto as a Woman of Distinction. She also acted as president of the International Women’s Forum of Canada, among other roles.

“The way she got started was the way so many women got started - turning a nothing job into a launch pad because her curiosity and her great intellect and her zest stood out,” her friend Rona Maynard told Law Times reporter Robert Todd.

“I find it very fitting, and also very sad, that she died on International Women’s Day, just as the light was breaking.”
- Gretchen Drummie

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