It is time to take personal responsibility on women’s rights

Are women better off today than yesterday or last year?

Muna AbuSulayman

Published: Updated:

Are we better off today than yesterday or last year? And is our life a product of our decisions or our circumstances? These two questions to me are the benchmark by which to measure change, progress and improvement.

Last week, on International Women’s Day, there were many articles that looked at different reiterations of this question penned by knowledgeable and learned and perhaps –unfortunately - not so learned Saudi men and women.

We heard discussions on the different sides of the argument: the humanitarian, the political, the economic and, of course, the religious. The very same facts were brought to bear on both sides of the argument.

Therefore, I choose not to look at the big picture of the situation of Saudi women. I will save that for another day, when the subject will not seem so hackneyed.

Nor am I going to answer these questions by participating in the important debates on absolute guardianship laws, increased female participation in the labor force, the triumph of the female Shura Council members participation in that body, or the endless discussions on allowing women to drive which have been plastered all over the media.

Accomplishments of Saudi women

Neither will I in this article reiterate the accomplishments of Saudi women by naming those who have done something worthy of notice in the past. Everyone reading this paper can name at least a dozen exceptional Saudi women who have defied the odds in the past year alone. And, of course, everyone knows that women are now able to run and vote in the upcoming municipality elections, although, at least this time around, they mostly will do neither. These accomplishments are documented and I am proud of how many pioneering women have worked hard to achieve them.

This article is NOT about the abstract Saudi woman, her circumstances, her past or her future. It is NOT written to verify facts, emphasize faith or curry favor

Muna Abusulayman

And this article is also not about defending myself. My position has always been clear; a Saudi woman needs to be assured of the basic rights to her humanity and for her to be treated on an equal footing under the law. She must be able to access all the resources that will allow her to explore her full potential, to use her mind, to be prepared for motherhood and for entering the labor force. A just Islamic society allows women to create such a dignified life and the opportunity for full participation in making decisions that affect her and her society. More importantly, Islam does not punish her for her gender. Anything that does not fulfill that is flawed. Finding and implementing the exact laws and mechanism to achieve this is difficult for, as they say, the devil is in the details. But, I digress.

This article is NOT about the abstract Saudi woman, her circumstances, her past or her future. It is NOT written to verify facts, emphasize faith or curry favor.

Personal responsibility

The article, quite simply, is about taking personal responsibility in our daily lives, in our own circle of influence in the way we deal with women. I am shifting today’s focus from what the government or organizations should be doing to improve women’s lives to what each one of us should be doing.

Personal responsibility means that you will no longer wait for the debates on women’s rights to be settled, for society to change or for someone to do something.

Personal responsibility means realizing that the someone is you and that the something is whatever you personally can do. Today. On your own. In your own life. In your own sphere of influence.

What can you do to set a woman on the path to a better life, the path to success, the path to realizing her potential? The girls and women in our families, in our homes, in our villages, in our schools, in our offices, in our cities. A woman or girl you know.

The actions can range from simply finding a young woman who needs encouragement to taking on a full mentorship role. Positive reinforcement is a wonderful tool for helping people become more successful and more confident in whatever they do. Mentorship can help a woman access opportunities that would not normally be available to her.

Perhaps even taking personal interest in a student, a cousin, a young bride or orphans who are stumbling because of insecurity or as a result of their life’s circumstances. Just taking an hour of your time could make a difference.

Or, if you are a working woman, perhaps you can take the time to give career advice to a new employee. Or highlight to the management some young woman’s accomplishment at work or her abilities.

If you are a teacher, you can take a special interest in one student and mentor her. Give a special class or lecture about a lesson you have learned in life that helped you become the person you are.

If you believe in an organization’s work, and there are many wonderful initiatives to help women, then participate in them, in making their vision come true. Devote some of your time to connecting with the women they help.

What you can do

If you are in the rare situation where no one in your life, in your circle of influence or within your household staff needs help, you can always write a thank you note to a woman who influenced you, who knowingly or unknowingly helped you.

These are not world shattering actions or big decisions that need time and effort and planning.

Taking personal responsibility means doing this not because you have to, not because you want to, but because you can. And, therefore you should.

Of course, one last thing, if you stumbled on this article and were looking for a more serious worldly assessment of Arab women from me, then may I direct you to my article “Sectarianism : The Largest Threat to Women’s Progress in the Middle East.” It is published online today by the Wilson Center.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on March 8, 2014.


Muna AbuSulayman is an award-winning popular Arab media personality and co-host of the No. 1 Arab TV program on social issues, Kalam Nawaem, a show that focuses on Arab families and empowerment. She has been named one of the most influential Arabs, as well as one of the most influential Muslims, in the world in numerous publications from 2009 to the present due to her unique and diverse cross-sector work experience in management, education, sustainable development, Islam/West relations, and female empowerment. She has spoken at the World Economic Forum, the UN, and the World Bank on sensitive issues, such as “Media Leadership in the Arab World” and “Monetization of Motherhood.” Most notably, AbuSulayman has successfully launched, managed, and scaled multiple businesses and runs a consultancy that focuses on finding “Big Ideas that Work” to solve problems in education, transportation, gender issues and entrepreneurship. She tweets @MunaAbuSulayman.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.