Around 1,000 Nigerian women have been stranded at airports in Saudi Arabia for five days running because of a rule that says they must be accompanied by a husband or male relative while taking the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca — a trip that's pretty much mandatory for able-bodied Muslims to take at least once in their life.
Nigeria's ambassador to Saudi Arabia told the BBC, "They are stopping women particularly between the ages of 25 and 35 without a male relative. Those over 45 are not a concern to the Saudi authorities." Apparently they're equally unconcerned about the fact that hundreds of women are currently sleeping on the floor of Saudi Arabia's busiest airport, sharing four toilets, and making do without any of their belongings. That sounds like a way safer alternative to letting adult women travel by themselves!
According to the AP, this is the first time that female pilgrims have actually faced mass deportation over this issue. In the past, Saudi Arabia allowed women to make the trek with state pilgrimage officials instead of a male relative or husband. (How reasonable of them.) But this year, officials are being so strict that they've actually detained women traveling with their husbands because the surnames on their passports were different — even though it's common practice for married Muslim women in Nigeria to keep their own last name.
Nigerian officials are now trying to reach a compromise so that the women don't have to spend any more nights on the airport floor — or deal with the consequences of deportation. Maybe if they all solemnly swear to never let go of a male relative's hand ever again?
Nigerian Hajj women held in Saudi Arabia [BBC]
908 Nigerian Female Pilgrims Held in Saudi Arabia [AP]