A recent phenomenon in Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows for many and calls for a closer look at the Kingdom's conservative society: sex-change operations.
Reports reveal that in 2005, there were no less than five cases of women who underwent surgery to become men in the Kingdom, according to Al Watan.
Though this may seem like a small number considering Saudi Arabia's population of more than 26 million, the figure comes as a shock to many in the conservative Muslim society, as Saudi Arabia remains one of the most traditional countries in the region, especially regarding sexuality and equal rights for men and women.
Some Saudi officials have reportedly laid blame for the shocking phenomenon on the blasphemous influences of the West, as well as on "psychological defects" of those who underwent the surgery.
However, according to other sources, the women embarked on the painful and dangerous transformation as a way to overcome the severe oppression and inequality that they reportedly encountered in Saudi society.
By becoming men, the women beleive, they would have the opportunity to enjoy those privileges denied them as Saudi females but allowed to Saudi males, including rights taken for granted in other societies, such as driving a car or even going to public places unaccompanied by a male relative.
A new black market for such operations is reportedly flourishing, and those interested in undergoing a sex-change operation are transported to another country (usually India) where the operation is preformed.
The entire process, including departure from Saudi Arabia, the operation in a foreign land, and return to the Kingdom under an assumed identity, reportedly takes all but two weeks.
The newspaper quoted a senior scholar as saying the Saudi authorities have to fill what he described as a legal vacuum by issuing laws against sex change operations.
© 2006 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )