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Did Gender Segregation Lead to the Death of a Saudi Woman Needing Medical Attention?

Did Gender Segregation Lead to the Death of a Saudi Woman Needing Medical Attention?

King Saud University is denying reports that their policy on keeping sexes separated has played a role in the death of a woman on campus, but the denial hasn’t stopped thousands from claiming on social media that the school’s actions caused Amna Bawazir to die when medical help couldn’t reach her in time to save her.

Both sides agree that Bawazir, who had heart issues, fell ill on campus and was treated first by campus paramedics, then later by paramedics called onto the scene. It’s the timing of the events that differ.

As Reuters reports, the sister of the victim said that the medics arrived at a campus gate around 11 a.m., just after Bawazir became ill, but that “[T]he medics were not allowed to enter the campus until 1 p.m.” The university authorities allegedly kept the medical team outside “until a gate was secured in a way ‘that did not allow the (male) medics and females in the building to mix.’”

University rector, Badran Al-Omar, disputes the timing of the events. He told the Associated Press, ”They called the ambulance at 12:35 p.m. and ambulance staff was there by 12:45 p.m. and entered immediately. There was no barring them at all. They entered from a side door.” A university employee, however, says Al-Omar’s version isn’t accurate, and that the paramedics weren’t immediately called.

When attempts to revive Bawazir failed, the medics took her to the university hospital, where she was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

The question that could affirm the real series of events is when exactly Bawazir suffered her medical event. Her sister reports that it was at 11:00 a.m.; the university officials don’t say. If she had a heart attack or medical issue at 11:00 a.m., but the ambulance wasn’t called until 12:35 p.m., surely school officials have some sort of explanation for why they waited so long to place the call. If not, then perhaps that gives weight to the theory that certain precautions to continue to keep genders segregated were undertaken before a medical team entered campus as some staff and onlookers claim, which caused a delay.

The death of any young person is a tragedy, and, in the case of Bawazir, it’s an even greater one if it could have been prevented but wasn’t because university officials “panicked” over how to ensure that they followed law by keeping the sexes separated even during a medical emergency. Many have compared it to the 2002 school fire where numerous girls died because they were not allowed to leave a burning building because they didn’t have the proper “modest” attire on.

In both cases, death should have been preventable. As one writer notes, even on a campus demanding gender segregation, protections could have easily been put in place. “If, for instance, university officials and the religious police are not going to allow male paramedics and firemen into all-female institutions then they should train female paramedics and firefighters,” writes Arab News. ”All universities that have female sections should have female doctors on call during school hours in order to provide medical assistance in case of emergencies.”

An investigation into the full details and timeline surrounding Bawazir’s death will likely be ongoing. Whether the school did delay medical assistance, and whether that delay cost Bawazir her life may never be answered. However, the incident has made it clear that there must be better access to care if there is a medical emergency on campus, and that female students in particular may suffer if those deficiencies aren’t addressed. Whether the segregation policies caused Bawazir’s death directly, there is little doubt that many, both on campus and off, are concerned about the safety of women with these policies in place. Whatever the inquiry shows, those concerns are unlikely to just go away.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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112 comments

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6:50PM PST on Feb 19, 2014

A tragic waste of human life caused by misogyny, stupidity and incompetence. The segregation of genders when someone's life is in danger is criminal. The senseless death of a young, intelligent woman in her prime because of school procedures.....unbelievable. I hope there is a very pointed review of these policies and actions of the university staff, who were too scared to do the right thing morally and medically. I hope they lead to a change of policy so no woman dies a senseless death again. I hope this terrible tragedy will spur other universities and work situations to treat women with respect and care, and provide immediate medical attention regardless of man-made gender segregation "rules".

Thank you Olivia, and others, for your excellent comments.

8:35AM PST on Feb 19, 2014

@ Vivien

You do know that the are 49 Muslim majority countries right? And that 1.62 billion people are Muslims?

Do you realize that the are huge differences in behavior and tradition within the Islamic world, including the treatment of women, and that the people within Islamic countries have wildly different beliefs and aspirations?

Are you aware of how devastating colonisation was for women in Egypt

What does your proposed boycott involve and how, exactly, is it going to persuade Muslims to 'mend their ways.'

Maybe we could set an example and judge people, not groups.

6:32AM PST on Feb 19, 2014

There are so many places where women don't count. This is a sad one.

4:10AM PST on Feb 17, 2014

this doesn't surprise me at all

6:11PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

This ghastly country is still back in "The Dark Ages"and my heart bleeds for any female who is born into a life of misery in such a place.Wasn't this the country where a large number of school girls burnt to death because they weren't permitted to escape without their hijabs and chardors on??!!When women die in horrific circumstances because of some backward,paternalistic and cruel ideology,then something is very wrong.I could never respect a "culture"like this.Some cultural ideologies need changing and discarding before any more women are killed.?!

5:41PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

Amazing

5:18PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

YES

4:49PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

More needs to be done to help the women in these countries with such misogynistic traditions so that their rights aren't continuously ignored. What is also wrong about this is that the men suffered from this tragedy, too, but their concerns were ignored because they were concerned over a woman. The men who were the paramedics, the men at the hospital, and, of course, the men of her family will all be ignored when speaking out against these insane policies and procedures.

4:11PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

noted

4:04PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

Ridiculous that an emergency medical problem is still subject to gender segregation laws!

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