Video: 'How to Not Get Punished for Being a Woman' in Saudi Arabia


A new video series by Amnesty UK brings dark humor to some of the world's worst human rights abuses

Harrowing human rights abuses and funny YouTube clips might not seem like the most natural combination, but Amnesty International is doing their best to make it work with a series of short web videos exploring topics in human rights. Amnesty TV, launched in July by the UK office of the Nobel peace prize-winning NGO, just released a "preview" of their ninth episode, embedded above.

"How to Not Get Punished for Being a Woman" is a satirical instructional video for Saudi women on what they are and are not allowed to do. The video, which is both darkly creepy and at points surprisingly entertaining, highlights both the violence implicit in the Saudi patriarchal system and the suffocating control that men there have over women. The video is also -- and this is what makes the Amnesty TV series so unusual -- disconcertingly funny.

It feels wrong to laugh at Saudi gender restrictions. Just as it feels wrong to laugh at another Amnesty TV video in which British-Iranian comedian Shappi Khorsandi demonstrates proper technique for stoning in Iran. Maybe this is just the British sense of humor at work, but it has the effect of forcing the viewer to confront just how wrong these human rights abuses really are. Reading headlines day in and out, it's easy to be dulled to the stories, to become removed from them by their vast physical and cultural distance from the world most of us know. The comedic element of these videos brings your guard down a bit and helps you remember that these are people being abused.

The videos are meant to be "a mixture of very serious thematic concerns and a very lighthearted way of exploring them," Amnesty spokesperson Harriet Garland told me. The NGO hopes that something with "broad appeal" like a web video can attract non-activists who "perhaps don't have much knowledge of human rights internationally" and might be inspired to learn more or "go to the amnesty website, where there's a wealth information and action to take."

A recent report by the World Economic Forum, "The Global Gender Gap," ranked Saudi Arabia last in the world for women in terms of political empowerment as well as economic participation and empowerment. Despite the Saudi monarchy's recent announcement that women will be allowed to participate in 2015 election, and despite grassroots efforts by Saudi women and some small progress in civil society organizations, women's rights are still largely stuck at zero.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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