The Shura council is expected to appoint 30 women as members in its next term, according to informed sources at the council. Several institutions had been asked to nominate names of competent Saudi women with high credentials and good experience. King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, will head the commission that will review the names and select the final list.
There are many women today who possess the qualifications that fit the profile. We hope the commission would select the list according to merit and choose the most qualified. We need women who have leadership qualities and enough confidence to stand up for the rights of the underprivileged and are aware of the needs of society. We do not need “yes” people who are not willing to take a stand on controversial issues that impede progress and development.
The Shura Council, meanwhile, has set up an informal commission to study the measures to facilitate an adequate working environment for the expected women members in 2013. Currently the Shura has 12 women advisers who are only consulted on matters related to women, families and children. So far their presence has not been effective; hopefully the newly elected members will be able to engage openly in the debates and discussions with their male counterparts in the council.
There are many professional and qualified women who have proven their capabilities and many are anxiously hoping to be nominated for membership to the council. There have been discussions over their role in the council, and whether they would be able to influence change or have an impact over Shura recommendations to support reforms. There are those who are weary of procedural obstacles that might hamper their effective participation and there are others who reject the idea of their membership in the council.
However, most women are optimistic because they have gained support from the King and the government to inspire them to overcome all obstacles and obstructionists that may stand in their way.
The newly appointed members are expected to support the calls for a codified system to ensure a uniform application of Shariah laws to protect women from injustices and discrimination in the name of Islam, injustices in cases of extreme jail sentences and floggings, child marriages, domestic abuse, child custody, and divorce on grounds of tribal incompatibility.
They will be in a position to inspire others to voice their opinion and contribute toward the advancement of society.
The women in the Shura Council will have the opportunity to call for new policies to revise the status of women in this society. Their presence in the Shura will enable them to exercise pressure on hardliners and confront discriminatory policies such as the reluctance to support women in leadership positions, the legal guardianship rule, the strict culture of segregation within society, the opposition to women driving, etc. They will be in a position to address the needs of working women such as adequate maternity leave, reasonable working hours, onsite nurseries and equal pay.
As official members of the council they could facilitate the participation of qualified and professional women in governmental and managerial positions thus allowing them to have a say in decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their children. They are expected to promote the activities of civil society and adopt the causes of all segments of society to help decision makers face ground realities.
The role of women in the Shura council should not be merely a token one if the government is serious about reforms and social justice. The only way to make their membership effective is by recognizing their qualifications and expertise in all matters that concern the State, and encourage their participation as experts and opinion leaders representing the whole society and not just the marginalized half of the Saudi population.
Shura representatives must always remember that they have a responsibility to speak for all citizens’ right in every sphere of national life, and a duty to extend professional advice to achieve social reforms and economic prosperity for all.
(Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. This article was published in the Saudi Gazette on Sept. 15)