Saudi women are experiencing an unprecedented period of empowerment today, in light of the historic gains they have made during the reign of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The gains and achievements for women in various fields have helped empower Saudi women, tap their potential, strengthen their status, and grant them more rights on the road to gender equality. These factors have allowed women to play an important role in development in view of achieving the objectives of Vision 2030, placing women as true partners along with men in the development of the country, and doubling their participation in the labor market from 17 percent to 31 percent. These are the outcomes of the reform program led by HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the godfather of Vision 2030, whose achievement he saw as dependent on empowering women to help drive development in Saudi Arabia.
Many human rights and legislative resolutions, regulations, and reforms have been issued to promote women's rights and participation in work, such that their scientific, educational, professional and leadership opportunities have become equal to those of their male compatriots. Women have participated in many developmental paths, held numerous positions in the public and private sectors, run for municipal councils and commerce chambers, become shura and regional council members, held senior leadership and diplomatic positions, represented the Kingdom at international events, and they are here to stay in finance and entrepreneurship.
Nevertheless, we must realize that today we are witnessing a different approach toward the Western world and its institutions and lobbyists, and its media and activists. They want to reinforce a certain image of Saudi Arabia. The issue was never about women's rights or empowerment, rather it is an intense political and media campaign, painting Saudi Arabia as a country of persecution and human rights violations, regardless of Saudi measures to grant rights and empower women. This propaganda campaign is supported by countries such as Canada, and reinforced by some of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors and the Muslim Brotherhood, who think they can embarrass the Kingdom. This ongoing plot coincides with the rise of HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a figure who is now a stranger to none thanks to his far-reaching Vision 2030; this is nothing but a smear campaign targeting his efforts to develop Saudi Arabia.
So, it was no surprise when US Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently announced a draft resolution condemning the politically motivated imprisonment of women and calling for the immediate release of female political prisoners. The draft resolution targeted ten countries around the world, including four countries in the Middle East, one of which is Saudi Arabia!
If we recall the campaigns for women’s right to drive when the attacks were raging, and before that in a number of cases and issues including the ‘Qatif Girl’, and abolishing the male guardianship system. Unfortunately, a minority in Saudi society fed into this image, either manipulated during their studies abroad, or lured into this rhetoric through social media.
Despite all the measures taken by the Kingdom to address existing gaps in women's rights, the West is looking for any opportunity to tarnish the image of the Kingdom, and all of these measures are orchestrated by suspicious intelligence and human rights organizations that exploit events politically. There is evidence of the falseness of these accusations in the contradicting attitude of these Western intelligence institutions towards human rights issues in their own communities, such as in Canada or in countries that openly violate and kill civilians as in Iran or Turkey, where there is resounding silence from this so-called pro-human rights Western community. The contradiction among the instigators of these attacks against Saudi Arabia does not stop there, but the irony is that while they highlighted the case of Rahaf Al-Qunun, they dismissed the case of a Kuwaiti girl who had taken refuge in Germany for the same social reasons as al-Qunun, but they did not care about her nor her cause.
These attempts to exploit issues that harm Saudi Arabia's image are cheap political ploys. The Kingdom is aware of this at the political level and realizes that these social issues should not require a political position, especially since relations with Canada were previously resolved, but the question remains: What have we done and how are we reaching youth who are heavily involved in social media or media outlets owned or financed by countries hostile to the Kingdom?
This article was originally published and translated from Saudi daily al-Riyadh.