Female death on campus spurs Saudi debate
By ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI
and AYA BATRAWY
the associated press | February 07,2014
FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 file photo, a veiled woman walks in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Saudis vented their anger online over a report Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, that staff at a Riyadh university had barred male paramedics from entering a women's-only campus to assist a student who had suffered a heart attack and later died. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy, File)
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Thousands of Saudis vented their anger online over a report Thursday that staff at a Riyadh university had barred male paramedics from entering a women’s-only campus to assist a student who had suffered a heart attack and later died.
The Okaz newspaper said administrators at the King Saud University impeded efforts by the paramedics to save the student’s life because of rules banning men from being onsite. According to the paper, the incident took place on Wednesday and the university staff took an hour before allowing the paramedics in.
However, the university’s rector, Badran Al-Omar, denied the report, saying there was no hesitation in letting the paramedics in. He said the university did all it could to save the life of the student, who was identified as Amna Bawazeer.
Al-Omar told The Associated Press that after the incident, he met Bawazeer’s father who told him his daughter had heart problems. The rector said Bawazeer suffered a heart attack and collapsed suddenly on the campus on Wednesday.
Her death sparked a debate on Twitter by Saudis who created a hashtag to talk about the incident. In the debate, many Saudis said the kingdom’s strictly enforced rules governing the segregation of the sexes were to blame for the delay in helping Bawazeer.
Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam. Sexes are segregated in schools and almost all Saudi universities. Women also have separate seating areas and often separate entrances in “family” sections of restaurants and cafes where single males are not allowed. The kingdom’s top cleric has warned against the mixing of the genders, saying it poses a threat to female chastity and society.
In a shocking tragedy in 2002, a fire broke out at a girl’s school in Mecca, killing 15 students. Rights groups reported that religious police would not allow the girls to escape because they were not wearing headscarves or abayas, a traditional loose black cloak that covers the female body from the neck down.
While religious police denied they blocked girls from fleeing and a government inquiry found the school was ill-equipped to handle emergencies, the incident led to the overhaul of women’s education.