Women should be partners in shaping future

Published: Mar 23, 2010 00:09 Updated: Mar 23, 2010 00:09 

But society denies them education thinking they are only meant to take care of 
husbands and kids

JEDDAH: In spite of educational reforms and improvements in the role of women 
in Saudi society, many old-fashioned families continue to feel women are only 
suited to become wives and mothers.

History was made last year with the appointment, by royal decree, of a Saudi 
woman, Nora Al-Fayez, as deputy education minister for girls' affairs.

Despite women being recognized in the field of education, some families still 
feel their womenfolk should only busy themselves with household chores and 
raising children.

Sanaa Hamad, 26, was forced to drop out of university in Jeddah by her brother 
during her final exams. "I suffered immense psychological pain after he killed 
off my dreams of getting a degree," she said.

Hamad's parents encouraged her to go to university. She had exhibited herself 
as a bright student at high school and so selected biochemistry as her major. 
Some of her relatives, however, disapproved of this and tried convincing her 
father not to allow her to continue with her education, saying it was 
unbefitting for a young woman.

"My father supported me and ignored our relatives. Then my brother suddenly 
decided I shouldn't continue with my education and that I should marry a 
cousin. He said women are only good for marriage and for looking after 
children," she said.

The Kingdom is presently seeing an increase in education facilities for women 
with many going abroad on university scholarships. However, with little 
development projects taking place in villages, an overall change in attitude 
seems distant.

Amal, who asked her last name not be published, said she was elated when she 
secured a place at a university in Riyadh. "I'm from a village near Riyadh and 
was excited to tell my dad. However, it was enough for him that I had got a 
high school degree," she said.

Amal's father told her she had studied enough and that a girl should preoccupy 
herself with looking after her husband. "I'm still hoping to continue my 
education. There is always time and hope," she said.

Fatima Ali, 19, said she hopes to see the day when people from rural 
backgrounds become more aware of the importance of female education. "I dreamed 
of going to college, but was shocked by the way my father and brother reacted. 
It felt I was in the Stone Age," she said.

"My father believes it's enough for women to just read and write. As for my 
brothers, they believe women have two places to go to - either their husband's 
house or the grave," she added.

Fatima wants the authorities to play a bigger role in raising awareness about 
female education, especially in rural areas. "Women in cities like Riyadh and 
Jeddah are traveling abroad to study and they are getting better education. We 
want the same," she said.

Dr. Samir Arar, a counseling psychologist at Maharat Center and professor of 
psychology at King Abdulaziz University, said women need to improve their 
skills before they become wives and mothers, and that education is the key. 
"Society needs educated women in order to be balanced," he added. Arar said 
people should never forbid their daughters from continuing their education 
because no one knows what the future holds. "A married woman can end up 
divorced or widowed and in both scenarios she would become the main breadwinner 
for her family," he said, adding that education and skills will help women find 
work and cross such obstacles.

Arar believes society should not confine women to being only mothers and wives 
but partners in shaping the future. "It's unfortunate and sad that women are 
being stopped from education and pursuing careers," he said.

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