Saudi women recently woke up to a welcome announcement from King Abdullah that they will be able to vote and run in future municipal elections. Could hardly believe it. Have lived and worked in Riyadh and understood that changes were coming, but not so much so soon. But unfortunately Western commentators are giving it a negative spin by pointing out that KSA is still behind the West when it comes to women’s rights. Not surprising since in the West we started empowering women a hundred years ago. We should instead focus on the giant step forward King Abdullah took and rejoice that the kingdom is finally changing. Am absolutely delighted and want to share with you what a female Saudi Arabian academic has to say about it in this 5 minute video:
Wrote an article “Saudi women – a force to be reckoned with” that has been widely read and had hugely positive response from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. Only a few non-Saudi Muslim men working in the Kingdom have been critical. Shared the breaking news about the right to vote on Linkedin the minute it broke on Sunday and the same men were, predictably, critical. Saudi men though sent me messages pointing out that these men are not Saudi and that their remarks are wrong and very unfortunate.
Discrimination against women is now ending in the Kingdom. The marginalization of women in society is, according to the King, the main factor that’s slowing down progress in KSA. In his speech, King Abdullah actually went as far as taking a stand against those who oppose progressive thinking and are reluctant to give women their due rights and praised the Ulema i.e the religious establishment for supporting him.
Saudis love their King
Don’t know the king but we have mutual friends and they all describe him as a good and kind bedouin who genuninely wants to improve peoples lives. Not surpsingly Saudis love their king who has long been a strong supporter of women’s issues and acted for their empowerment. Lived in Riyadh when he became king in 2005. One of the first decrees he issued was to tell the religious police to stay out of commercial premises. Hence never needed to wear the hijab.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
For women in Saudi Arabia this is a huge step forward. Like with everything in life, there will be setbacks but eventually they will enjoy the same rights as women in the rest of the world. How long it will take is anyone’s guess. But it’s coming. In Saudi Arabia not only women but many men as well are happy about the King’s announcement. From what I understand a lot of young Saudi men are no longer interested in having a housewife but want to marry a woman who works.
Educated Saudi women will lead the way
Now the elite of ecucated Saudi women will take the lead to do what their sisters in the West did a hundred years ago and speak on behalf of women who are under priviliged and oppressed. Motivate them to become active citizens and help Saudi Arabia prosper. They will, like earlier generations of women in the West, have to be role models for other women in order to build a socially, politically and economically strong and progressive nation. And they will succeed not least because they passionately want to. In fact I know that many will be delighted to finally be allowed to do so.
It will obviously take time to make especially older women start having a life outside their home. The young girls though, believe me, will be delighted. They used to say to me that they couldn’t understand what I was doing in Riyadh since they wanted to be in the West and have a career and fun.
What’s your opinion? Do you agreee that it was a wonderful and welcome surprise and that King Abdullah will now go down in history as the reformer who paved way for progress in Saudi Arabia? That from this day on the whole world will be monitoring the new role of Saudi women as decision makers? Will conservatives in the Kingdom defy their King and try to prevent equality for women? Should the rest of the world focus on the positive aspects instead of expecting Saudi Arabia to change over night? Is it time for Saudi bashing to stop and for the world to recognize the fact that The Custodian of The Holy Mosques took the decision to empower women and include them in public life? Or should we, like some, lament the fact that he is in favour of gender equality?
(Video: AlJazeeraEnglish – You Tube)