The need for a Saudi ministry to empower women

Saudi women activists stress that men who discriminate against women should not be given absolute power

Samar Fatany

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Saudi society remains male-dominated. Saudi women activists stress that men who discriminate against women should not be given absolute power. They reject the male intellectual structures that continue to form the basic framework for thought and action. Therefore, the call for a ministry to empower women by Dr. Maha al-Munif, director of the National Family Safety Program and a prominent activist, should be supported by all Saudi women today.

“We need a ministry for women to enact laws to punish individuals who harass females. We have to spread a culture of rights and eradicate family violence,” Dr. al-Munif urged authorities. These words of wisdom should be supported and encouraged by all in order to finally end the continued discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia today. The establishment of a special ministry for empowering women and assisting them in their legal, social and economic affairs would have a great impact on society.

Today, there are those who welcome the proposal to establish a Ministry for Women’s Affairs and believe in its vital role in supporting the empowerment of women. They stress the need for efficient cooperation between the ministries of justice, education, health and labor to implement necessary policies and programs to support women and end discriminating social trends that are prevalent in our society.

Marginalizing women

However, there are others who believe that having a separate ministry would further marginalize their role and would restrict their participation in other ministries that can also address their needs. No one denies the fact that it would be ideal to give women the opportunity to participate in all government sectors, however with the majority of government departments being dominated by men, women will inevitably be confronted with those who will discriminate against them. Their impact would always be less effective and they would continue to have a marginalized role in male-dominated ministries.

Women in such a ministry could be more effective in their efforts to tackle economic necessities and help their sisters with their social responsibilities toward their children.

Samar Fatany

A Ministry for Women’s Affairs could marginalize the role of officials and bureaucrats who cling to their belief in the inherited traditional limited role of a woman being subservient to the will of her male guardian. Indeed there are still many among us who regard women as intellectually, physically and morally inferior. Our government must not delay the official representation of the new more modern Saudi woman who is capable, educated and a contributing member of her family and society at large. We cannot wait until Saudi society is enlightened to address modern day issues that only educated and professional women can address.

What would change?

A Ministry for Women’s Affairs would include educated and professional women who would have the authority to address the technological and industrial advancements that have revolutionized our way of living. Women in such a ministry could be more effective in their efforts to tackle economic necessities and help their sisters with their social responsibilities toward their children. When women suffer, whole families suffer.

Economists affirm that investment in women is the most effective means of eliminating poverty. Social injustice against women requires appropriate and effective laws, so that all are aware of women’s legal rights and so that violators can be held accountable for misdeeds.

Given the authority of a ministry, these women can expedite reforms and enforce the will to amend laws, apply new national gender policies, and establish institutions to implement them. The ministry would have the authority to include constitutional amendments to end discrimination, and laws dealing with the protection of the inheritance rights of women, the legal age of marriage, sexual offenses, domestic violence, equal opportunities and marriage. The ministry would be in a position to adopt a more effective policy against discrimination by monitoring violations in governmental and nongovernmental organizations and holding the offenders accountable.

Changing lives

A Ministry of Women’s Affairs could ensure that women are not excluded from senior management and policy planning meetings and it could outline priorities for gender mainstreaming and the empowerment of women. It could also play a role in monitoring and evaluating government policies that support women’s empowerment and hold those who violate laws and regulations accountable.

The new ministry would have the responsibility of enhancing the legal status of women by implementing a national strategy to conduct public campaigns on gender based discrimination and violence. It could play a vital role in securing funding for awareness campaigns that could address attitudes and beliefs that inhibit the implementation of legislative and constitutional amendments that the government has put in place.

Gender discrimination is a recognized global problem in the workforce. However, all countries are obligated by international law to reduce it. Diversity in approaches can add more value and increased productivity. Saudi women today must be given the opportunity to participate more effectively in the decision making process. They have proven their capabilities and are qualified to establish a government body with executive powers to influence social, economic and legal changes that can accelerate reforms and enhance the progress of our nation. Will Saudi women succeed in ending the discrimination against them? The whole world is waiting for an answer.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on March 15, 2014.


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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