Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, November 16, 2015

Glacial Change

"Psychologically speaking it's good, but in terms of changing the reality on the ground it won't change anything."
"It is just to appease the international community and to silence their critics These councils don't have any power." 
"It's not an issue [women driving in Saudi Arabia] for the upper class because most of them have drivers. But it is an issue for working-class women who want to pick their children up at school."
Ali al-Ayami, director, Centre for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

"The position of women has changed radically in the past fifteen or twenty years. Hundreds of thousands of women have now travelled abroad and that's something you can't undo."
Richard Spencer, Middle East editor, The Telegraph, Britain

"This is hugely significant. We have over one thousand women convinced they can make a difference and who convinced their families to be part of this experience."
We really hope and we pray for this [recognition of human rights entitlements for women in Saudi Arabia]. But we know that change is very slow."
Hatoun al-Fasi, professor of history, King Saud University
The December polls will be the first since the 2011 decision by late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to grant women the right to vote and run for office [AP]
As The Telegraph's Richard Spencer points out, Saudi women have been travelling abroad. Outside Saudi Arabia they are able to see the freedom that women take for granted living in democratic countries of the West. They, on the other hand, must depend on permission from a father, a husband or a brother to enable them to take that opportunity to travel. An obviously demeaning cultural determinant of women's place in a strictly observant Muslim community.

Professor Fasi, a women's rights activist, noted that of that thousand women who have chosen to register to run for public office municipally [the only government level that the new law coming into effect for this election permits them to] about thirty have dropped out resulting from pressure from their families. This exciting event for Saudi Arabian women, catching up to the gains made by women living elsewhere almost a century earlier, was a social gift from the late King Abdullah.

He ruled that women could run for public office [municipally]. And he set the date of 2015 when they would be able, for the first time, to exercise their franchise in experimental equality under Saudi law, based on Sharia. The large number of women who registered caught authorities by surprise. They had no idea that such numbers would surface, representing women eager to have a say in how their municipalities operate.

It does rather make sense that 50% of the population should have something to say about policies that so directly affect them, after all.

Remember, this is a culture that impresses upon women, in a rigidly patriarchal society, that they are subservient to the men in their lives. And how women in Saudi Arabia must behave in public is very circumscribed; they are not to be seen nor to be heard, and an all-encompassing black burqa shields them from public view, lest an inch of skin be seen and awake the lustful beast in men. They must be accompanied by a male relative in public. And must have permission to conduct official business.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive. They are completely dependent on their male guardians for permission to enable them to embark on a myriad of actions and activities taken for granted as normal daily routines elsewhere in the world. Spontaneity is stifled, women must know their modest place in society, else the world will not turn as it should. The law is not on their side when it comes to equal status under the law.

But certain things have changed. Despite the strict Salafist view of Sharia law, unlike what pertains under the Taliban, for example, women are given entry to higher education opportunities, the result of which is that women now account for up to 60 percent of university students. Saudi Arabia in the past decade has sponsored 750,000 students to study abroad, and roughly a third of them are Saudi women.

It is only in the last few years that women could work as clerks in stores. Little thought appears to have been given to Saudi women who shopped for lingerie, being served by male store clerks who were often foreign migrant workers.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

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