Tuesday 22 July 2008 (18 Rajab 1429) 

      Women's rights in Kingdom 

      Samar Fatany, Arab News -
      THERE are conflicting reports about the participation of women in the 
2009 municipal elections. According to some government officials, there are 
still many challenges that make it difficult for Saudi women to participate in 
the decision-making process of their country.

      This sorry situation is due to several major factors that continue to 
harm Saudi women and deprive them of the right to manage and lead 
organizations. The most obvious ones are the long absence of any resistance 
toward blatant discrimination and women's sad acceptance and resignation to 
their unfortunate fate. They make no demands to take charge of their lives or 
to reject the continued abuse and unjust policies. Moreover, the indifference 
of the educated elite and acquiescence of the more moderate religious scholars 
who remained silent for decades contributed to ignorant and shortsighted 
restrictions that have excluded women from all spheres of public life.

      However, this is no longer the case. I have been following with great 
interest and enthusiasm the calls and activities of women leaders in Saudi 
society. Some of them who are associated with Human Rights Organization have 
been very critical of the judiciary for its blatant bias toward men and its 
failure to provide justice for women who suffer from domestic abuse. Women 
writers have also boldly defied those who argue that driving for women is not a 
priority. They have asserted that the ban is another form of misogynistic 
control over women and a means to restrict their movement.

      The board members of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry also 
have played a vital role in addressing the segregation laws and other obstacles 
that limit the success of women in business and the work force.

      ACADEMICS and women in media have contributed by conducting scientific 
studies and exposing the violations and social problems facing women as well as 
recommending solutions to raise the status of women in Saudi society.

      Today, the educated elite, who had abandoned their intellectual role and 
whose only interest in the past was personal gain, is taking a more active role 
to confront the hegemony of tribal culture and is working hard toward changing 
the social fabric of this male domination that is hobbling the progress and 
development of this country.

      A national campaign has already begun to address the challenges that 
impede women's participation in government and managerial positions. King Abdul 
Aziz National Dialogue Center should be commended for leading this campaign to 
raise awareness among women and address the major obstacles that stand in the 
way of their empowerment. The center invited researchers and social scientists 
to participate in several conferences throughout the Kingdom and, for the first 
time, has succeeded in creating a culture of dialogue in our society to discuss 
matters that were taboo in the past - mainly discrimination against women in 
the name of Islam. All the debates were televised, and the media covered in 
detail many bold and transparent studies that expose the unjust policies that 
control women and marginalize their role, such as the imposed rule of a male 
guardian licensed to manage all legal aspects of women in Saudi Arabia. These 
rules keep women entirely under the mercy of people who prey on their legal 
vulnerability. Issues like these need to be raised, as they constitute a clear 
violation of human rights by all world standards and any religious belief.

      The initiatives of the National Dialogue Center provide us with hopes for 
a better future. The center recently endorsed a new plan to launch an awareness 
campaign that will reach 45,000 citizens within six months. Three categories of 
people will be selected for a national study of Saudi culture and lifestyle. 
Each category will consist of 15,000 people including imams in mosques, 
elementary school teachers, university professors and parents. One of the main 
objectives of this initiative is to emphasize the importance of social 
responsibility and positive and transparent interaction between community 
members. I hope and pray that one day the initiatives of our activists, social 
scientists and women in media will pave the way for Saudi women to assume 
leadership positions in government and business.

      Women here have suffered in silence for decades; it is time we heard them 
speak out and demand their legal rights as equal citizens of this country. 
However, women must understand that in order to succeed and gain these rights, 
they must stand up for themselves while learning from the experience of others.

      In more advanced societies, women had to work hard to get to where they 
are today. Some struggled for many years to become leaders and decision-makers. 
I wonder how long it will take to convince our leaders to include women in 
government and in managerial positions. How long will it take to make our 
judiciary recognize women as equal partners in this land? Saudi officials have 
no definite answers. There are many uncertainties, and no one can guarantee 
that women will assume leadership positions or participate in the 
decision-making process in the near future. Will the barriers remain in place 
for the following round of elections - or will they simply remain in place 

      - Samar Fatany is a Saudi radio journalist. She is based in Jeddah. Write 


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