The following article was published in Arab News on March 26, 2011 and was written by Walaa Hawari. The original article can be found HERE.
Have Saudi women achieved their rights?
By WALAA HAWARI | ARAB NEWS
Published: Mar 26, 2011 23:09 in Arab News
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA: On March 8 the world celebrated International Women’s day. Some women across the world either expressed satisfaction at achieving some or all of their rights whereas others expressed aspirations to achieve them. It became clear that women are still demanding their rights and expecting to seem them materialize.
Celebrations within the Kingdom were rather humble and took the form of women simply stating the achievements of Saudi women. The question, however, remains whether Saudi women have actually achieved their rights or at the least some of them.
According to Thurya Abed Sheikh, a PhD holder, founding member of the National Society for Human Rights and vice president of the Al-Wafa Philanthropic Society for Women, Saudi women have “almost” achieved their rights.
“We cannot say we are there yet, but we are on the way,” she said, adding that women in the Kingdom have not made much progress with regards to the Shoura Council, the Municipal Council, driving and legal rights.
“Marriage, divorce and children’s custody are rights that Saudi women are still being denied,” she said, adding that she sees women suffering all the time through the work she does.
“There is no lucid and clear family law to govern breaches in those domains for which women pay a huge price,” said Sheikh, adding that although Saudi women are in high positions they are still short of achieving the simplest of rights.
Demands for women to be employed in courts is a long-term requirement, said Sheikh, adding that such a move would make it easy on women to communicate with legal representatives, judges and lawyers, and resolve matters quickly.
“Women’ rights are lost in courtrooms. Even when a women receives a ruling in her favor, no executive power follows up on whether the ruling has been executed,” said Sheikh, adding that many women lose custody of their children and do not receive alimony in cases when courts have awarded them such.
Sheikh is, however, optimistic that Saudi women will see their rights materialize.
May Al-Sudairi, a writer and human rights activist, strongly disagrees. “The Saudi woman is completely marginalized and the positions she is awarded are more symbolic,” she said, adding that a Saudi woman being at an international forum or conference or meeting Hillary Clinton does not solve her problems.
“I do not want to attend international events, while my voice is not heard inside,” said Al-Sudairi, adding that reforms in the legal system to better the situation of women are more important.
Saudi women are treated like minors, Al-Sudairi said, adding that they are required to be governed and guarded by male relatives regardless of their capability or compatibility.
“Forty and 60-year-old women, those who are in high positions even, need permission from a son, a brother or a male relative to travel and own property,” she said, adding that some women are forced to pay male relatives to give them travel permits or represent them in court.
Al-Sudairi advocates employing women in official positions, especially in the legal system, to enable them to be better heard and represented while providing jobs to unemployed women.
“Women have always operated in the justice system, take the example of Ayesha, the Prophet’s (pbuh) wife,” she said, adding that his first wife, Khadija, was a well-known businesswoman.
According to Amal Badrodeen, a pediatric and general health care consultant and educator, Saudi women have achieved some of their goals through their personal willpower, enthusiasm and persistence. She believes women have come a long way in the Kingdom.
“We did this on our own. Yes there were supporting elements, but we manipulated those elements to achieve our goals,” said Badrodeen, adding that sending women on scholarships and developing the education system are some of those elements.
Considering the achievements of Saudi women positively will encourage women to do more, said Badrodeen. She added that some sectors have developed further for women to move forward.
She, however, feels the legal system needs adjustment to allow Saudi women to achieve their rights. She also feels that Saudi women need to demand their rights and overcome obstacles to prove themselves in every field, adding that women cannot dispense of the support of men without totally depending on them. “It’s our right to gain our rights,” she said.
Madawi Al-Hassoon, a Saudi businesswoman and board member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, feels that when it comes to women’s rights “Saudi women are still not there yet.”
Al-Hassoon said Saudi women are marginalized and oppressed despite official steps to give them their rights. “Regulations are issued in women’s favor, but applying them is difficult,” she said, adding that a royal decree was issued in 2008 permitting businesswomen to live in hotels. However, many hotels remain reluctant to allow businesswomen to live in hotels.
The Jeddah Economic Forum is another example of Saudi women being sidelined, she said, adding that Saudi businesswomen were not included or represented at the event this year and last year.
“We are optimistic that we will achieve our rights officially and with the support of the government. However, it is the application of those rights that we worry about, especially when there are individuals with certain agendas preventing women from moving forward,” said Al-Hassoon, adding that regulations need to be implemented and that this needs to be checked. She added that those who refuse to implement them should be punished.
The Riyadh Book Fair, said Al-Hassoon, is another example when certain individuals harassed Saudi women believing they have the right to instruct, criticize or correct them.
Maintaining the dignity of Saudi women is the responsibility of the officials, said Al-Hassoon, adding that their voices should be heard and their rights protected.
“How can we request a guardian to run her life when strangers have a right in her life.”