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Saudi women should not be deprived of a role in development

Women have come a long way in the past three decades, becoming presidents, prime ministers and agents of change in their society

Khaled Almaeena

Published: Updated:

Last Tuesday, International Women’s Day was celebrated across the globe. Articles, documentaries lectures and meetings were held by women to highlight their progress, discuss shortcomings and set goals that need to be achieved.

On Mar. 7, an all-women operated Air India aircraft flew on an epic 17-hour journey from Delhi to San Francisco. Earlier three Muslim women flew an Air Brunei plane from Darussalam to Jeddah on another long haul flight.

Women have come a long way in the past three decades. They have become presidents, prime ministers and agents of change in their society. The head of Pepsi Cola in the United States is an Indian-born woman.

I will not exaggerate and say that all is perfect for women here in Saudi Arabia. However, a lot of progress has been made since the establishment of girls education by the late King Faisal and lately the induction of women into the Shoura Council by the late King Abdullah.

The continuation of progress as exhibited by the participation and election of women in the recent Municipal elections is another strong indicator that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman will spare no effort to see that Saudi women take their rightful place in society.

Half the population

A society that neglects and deprives half of its population from active participation is doomed to failure. As was recently said by Hillary Clinton: “Advancing the status of women and girls makes economies grow and nations more secure. It’s the right – and smart – thing to do.” She could not be more correct!

Saudi women are part of the family of women the world over. They have had enough of being treated like children. They are educated, possess social skills and have talent. They can no longer be confined to the back seat. And customs and traditions should not be used as a “cover” to push them back. They have the moral and spiritual authority to take care of themselves.

A society that neglects and deprives half of its population from active participation is doomed to failure

Khaled Almaeena

Women know their religious duties. We have had enough of some men trying to dominate them. Let them do that to their own wives and daughters. And even that cannot be done anymore, as there are now laws against domestic abuse and violence.

At one time in the 1990s, there were three Muslim women prime ministers and presidents: Tansu Çiller in Turkey, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh, and they were followed a little later by Megawati in Indonesia. These women were all elected by a conservative Muslim majority.

And by the way, these female Muslim prime ministers and presidents all sat in the same room as their cabinet which was composed of men. I have always maintained that Saudi women are equal to men in ability, if not more than equal.

Women should cooperate with each other to help their sisters develop and grow. And men should also see to it that their daughters, sisters and women relatives are all given the chance to lead full and productive lives. That will be the key to our country’s success.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Mar. 13, 2016.
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Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena's political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post. He can be reached at kalmaeena@saudigazette.com.sa and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

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