Dear reverend female Shura members, perhaps you remember how we celebrated you and how we were thrilled when we heard of the news that 30 females have been assigned to the Shura council. Perhaps you remember how we refused that anyone should spoil our joy or doubt the efficiency and the role of females at an institution governed by bureaucracy and limited jurisdictions. We said that women are not superior creatures but they are individuals who have civil rights and who have the right to gain the experience of working in society’s institutions to benefit themselves and others. We said that women’s work at the Shura council may be an opportunity in which they excel or become equal with others and in which they learn and gain more experience.
How can the society become normal when its women are married off when they are still minors and when they are put through the jeopardy of delivering babies at such a young age and forced to raise their kids with no experience whatsoeverBadria al-Bishr
We wanted you to appear in the picture to make it prettier. Without your participation, the vision is one-eyed, and society cannot see clearly if it’s one-eyed. A society cannot move forward without possessing two wings, and it does not only develop thanks to its men. Its women are the mothers who gave birth to these men. Its wives are the ones who share responsibilities with them. And its daughters are the ones who participate in planting new hope that develops the future. How can the picture be complete in a council that only makes decisions upon men’s counsel and amidst the absence of competent women? When you arrived to the council, you arrived in a cheerful procession that everyone celebrated. Everyone celebrated these 30 women who were chosen and granted confidence on the basis of competence. Most of you learnt at famous universities and worked at labs and in the fields of medicine, education and research.
We are counting on you
This is why we count a lot on you. We know that your first concern will not only be women but will be the entire society with its men, women, youth and children. But how will the society rise and yield optimism if its women are extremely neglected, unprotected and weak? There is widow Umm Abdullah begging in the streets because she cannot afford to pay her rent. There is Amal, a ten-year-old child, marrying a man who is 50 years old than her. The judge has still not granted her a divorce although she threatened to kill herself. There is divorced Umm Hassan who does not receive her nafaqah (financial support) and whose ex-husband threatens to take the kids away from her if she asks for it. The judge ruled that Umm Salma’s daughter receives a nafaqah that does not exceed 300 riyals and that the son receives a nafaqah of 500 riyals! There’s the Saudi’s Monetary ruling that nafaqah be deducted from the ex-husband’s bank account. But banks do not allow deducting more than half of the salary. So if he’s paying a car installment, the priority goes to it and not to the nafaqah deduction. And there is a judge who refuses to look into a woman’s case unless her guardian is present. As if her right to justice is dependent on his presence. The judge also refuses to recognize her civil identity card. How can the society become normal when its women are married off when they are still minors and when they are put through the jeopardy of delivering babies at such a young age and forced to raise their kids with no experience whatsoever. Add to this that they get abandoned and left behind, and when they request nafaqah, their kids are taken away from them either by force or by resorting to abduction.
Ladies of the Shura, it is true that we were happy when you were assigned. But after joy, it’s time for work. Since one Shura council member can bring up one topic for discussions and there’s 30 of you, we hope that you raise the issue of calling for a personal status law which represents the major umbrella to protect women’s rights or rather the latter’s backbone. Nothing straightens without this law. This will be easy for you since some of you have specialized in social work pertaining to women and have enough experience that makes it possible to raise this issue at the council.
Ladies of the Shura, I don’t think you are unaware of our presence. But it’s our pleasure to remind you now and then; “We are here!”
This article was first published in al-Hayat on June 3, 2013.
Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.