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
to her at [EMAIL PROTECTED]