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Female student’s death spurs debate on Saudi’s segregated universities

UAE Students

By Abdullah Al-Shihri and Aya Batrawy

Thousands of Saudis vented their anger online over a report 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 on-site. 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.

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 cafés 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.

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