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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