Can Saudi women writers influence change?

Samar Fatany

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The state of chaos and turmoil in Egypt and the conflicts and wars in many Arab and Muslim countries today is quite alarming. The dangers and instabilities that are so close to home should put us all on high alert and fill us with determination to protect our homeland and address our challenges with transparency and sincerity to guarantee social stability and justice for all.

We live in an age in which information is available at the click of a button. Censorship and secrecy are things of the past; they have become obsolete thanks to Twitter and YouTube. Governments can no longer apply the censorship policy or lie to their people. The younger generation is well informed and continues to demand better opportunities and services that are available in other societies around them. Citizens today demand greater participation and wish to have a say in laws and policies that affect their lives. This makes it imperative to have a free press and professional writers and journalists who can be the voices of the people and become the bridge between the public and the government in order to avoid strife and create a stable and peaceful society.

In Saudi Arabia the role of media is more crucial because it has a responsibility to influence the mindset of a very closed community. Experts in the field have a duty to change the cultural barriers that are detrimental to progress. Writers and journalists must strive to educate the public on vital matters that impact their lives. They should identify malpractices and injustices and bring them to the attention of the authorities in order to find solutions that can serve justice and develop a more stable and harmonious society.

Women represent 50 percent of Saudi society. When women are granted their legal rights and are empowered to serve their community our society will prosper and our families will thrive. In 2006, Dr. Hatoon Al-Fassi, the activist, academic and bold weekly columnist at Al-Riyadh newspaper initiated the Saudi women writer’s online network to address civil reform issues and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Fassi, who is a well-known historian and has lectured as an assistant professor of women’s history in the history department of King Saud University, continues to energize the exclusive creative writer’s network of prominent and highly influential women leaders with strong articles that address the legal rights of women in Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, the group of prolific women writers have contributed with constructive articles to guarantee the welfare of women many of whom remain unaware of their basic human rights in society. Within a period of six years, the group grew to include 70 members who are talented writers and columnists in local Arabic and English newspapers. The group includes Aziza Al-Manie, Thuraya Oraid, Fatina Shaker, Fawzia Abu Khaled, Fawzia Al-Bakr, Samar Al-Miqrin, Nabila Mahjoub, Reem Asaad, Amira Kashghari, Halimah Muzafar, Fatin Bundugji, Maram Makawi, Badria Albishr, Suhaila Zain Alabdin and many others who are recognized by both the public and the authorities as responsible activists and advocates for change. The group also includes honorary members who have contributed to society such as Dr. Thoraya Obaid, the former Executive Director of the United Nations and newly-appointed member of the Shoura Council, and Dr. Thuraya Al-Turki, who is a well-known anthropologist.

These women are the voice of the people and a powerful force in building the nation. They have been instrumental in changing the mindset of people and educating those who are influenced by rigid customs that stand in the way of empowering women and creating a harmonious environment for the modern Saudi family.

Many Saudi women suffer in silence not knowing who to turn to or what legal procedures are available for help. Saudi women writers have become a source of strength, protecting the underprivileged and the oppressed and projecting their sufferings by addressing many cases of abuse that the legal channels have failed to address, such as the "Qatif Girl" rape case, the divorce of Fatma and Mansour, cases of domestic violence, child marriages, etc.

Among their great achievements is their women’s rights campaign to include women in the decision-making process. Dr. Al-Fassi and Naila Attar and other members of the group initiated the Baladi Campaign which called for women to be allowed to participate in Municipal elections. Today women have become members of the Shoura Council and they will participate in Municipal council elections in 2015. The writers network also continues to campaign against the guardianship rule and the elimination of discriminatory rules marginalizing the role of women in society.

The bold and eloquent women writers have created an impact and their important role cannot be ignored. They represent the public opinions of the educated citizens of this country who are eager to contribute to the welfare of society.

The women writers online network is focused on highlighting the challenges of modern society. The group offers analyses to help the public form opinions and make judgments regarding various controversial issues. They strive to keep the public informed about what is happening in their own society. They work collectively to affect people’s perspective through their progressive and objective analyses of matters that influence our daily lives. Their critique and differing opinions should not be viewed by the authorities as dissent, but rather as support to build a strong nation.

Media awareness campaigns are necessary to educate members of the public about their rights and their obligations to their country. Citizens should learn to respect the rule of law and the government should protect the interests of its citizens. That is why the role of the media is crucial in protecting our society from chaos and distress.
Officials should promote media independence and freedom to allow responsible journalists and columnists to voice the needs and concerns of the people. The stability and progress of the nation will be ensured when the media is supported so that it can act as a watchdog for change and reform.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Feb. 1, 2013.

Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books:“Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,”“Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.

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