Re-evaluating the case for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

Over the past few years, women have been increasingly active in Saudi Arabia as they sought to take part and have respected positions in the country. At the same time, the challenges women are facing continue to rise. Women in Saudi Arabia found themselves facing more closed doors and greater hindrances as the society tightened its noose around them in the name of religion, traditions or even through government regulations.

These restrictions on women were aggravated to the extent that their existence were limited to a “male guardian” who can be any male member from their families. These conditions involved the right to finish her studies, find a job, get access to treatments, open bank accounts, own and run a business and many other rights. These decisions do not have a legal basis in the country, but are mere jurisprudence that considers the woman as a minor, and thus, anyone may impose more constraints on her.

However, it is important to note that these snowballing restrictions did not succeed in convincing women to stay at home, but rebelliously, women were keen on pursuing their higher education, to the extent that the number of female university students was greater than male students’ numbers. Today, Saudi universities embrace more than 250,000 young women. The increasing number of educated and qualified women shows that these two contradictory trends cannot go hand in hand. Moreover, the government cannot encourage women to education and employment, while at the same time, allow for such restrictions and hindrances to exist concurrently.

Changing society

Last week witnessed an important step toward addressing the issue when the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, intervened and ordered to review the current procedures and practices, considering that all requirements imposed on women be exempt. This royal intervention opened the door to some groups and bureaucrats who were using these provisions to prevent women from doing quite anything unless with the consent of a male member of the family.

If the regulations are amended, and in case arbitrary restrictions and arrests came to an end, the society will definitely change for the better. It is unreasonable and unacceptable for half of the population to remain disabled and deprived of their jobs and services due to the desire of a radical group.

Despite all these restrictions, do not underestimate the determination of Saudi women; there are those among them who are challenging these erroneous practices, seeking to correct them under the dome of the Shoura Council or in the Saudi media.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

We are now seeing two opposite categories in Saudi society: Those who are with granting women their full rights and others who want to stop and limit them. We see how the government opens schools and universities with free access for girls; the government provides women with employments and allocate 20 percent of Shoura council seats for them and this is one of the highest quotas for women in the world’s legislative councils. The government is also encouraging women to run for municipal elections and allows them to sit in the first rows in the chambers of commerce and service and media associations, as well as in senior government positions.

However, the other category refuses to recognize women’s eligibility, and considers them as minors, even if they have been qualified as brain surgeons, limiting them to the consent of their guardians on all levels!

Despite all these restrictions, do not underestimate the determination of Saudi women; there are those among them who are challenging these erroneous practices, seeking to correct them under the dome of the Shoura Council or in the Saudi media. All these issues have been the subject for an open debate about the right of women to travel or even drive a car. Hopes are high for women to achieve their goals, or at least for most of them and meet halfway the positive spirit of the vision’s project, so that the development project of the whole society reaches a happy ending.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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