Monday, September 26, 2011

King Abdullah Starts a New Era for Saudi Women

I was extremely happy to arrive back to Saudi from our Turkey trip. Why? Because it is a historical moment for Saudi women. King Abdullah has announced in his speech that women will be allowed to vote and participate in the Shoura council.

I was so happy that upon hearing this I just wanted to go give him a big bear hug!

Ok maybe that wouldn't be the greatest idea. But you get the idea of how excited I am. This is big news. Saudi women are soon going to participate in decision making in Saudi Arabia. This also gives hope for the future for more decrees like this from the King. (ahem women driving..) Not only the Saudi women but the whole country will benefit from this change.

I guess it's no secret I'm a big fan of the King. He is doing a great job considering the circumstances he has to work under. He has to deal with the heavy pressure from the religious clerics breathing on his back, the mixed public opinions he hears all around, his brothers and other family members on the other side whispering their opinions and demands, his advisors with their own agendas and also his conscious to be the just ruler that is ultimately responsible only to Allah.

It looks like most of the time his ultimate choice has been listening to the heart. That is what makes him so loved by the Saudi people.

The King, estimated to be a staggering 92 years old said in his speech:
 "Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Shariah, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulema and others to involve women in the Shoura Council as members, starting from the next term"

Well it sure took a long time for them to realize they'd been marginalizing women but better late than never I guess.
Personally I think this is great news and indicates that the country is ready to move forward to this millennium. Some others have been more skeptical. People are saying this is not really going to mean anything concrete will happen for improvement of womens rights. Women are not actually going to have any power in the Shoura, but will only be like puppets and all this was done solely for statistics and looks. The Shoura council and municipal election themselves are said to have little or no actual influence on how the country is ruled.
Western media has perhaps deliberately left unsaid that before 2005 Saudis, regardless of gender were in fact not allowed to vote at all. Or in other words, there was nothing to vote for. When they held the municipal elections for the first time it was most likely due to the resource problems (gender segregation) that women weren't included. For the next round in 2015 women will be able to vote as well as run as candidates. That will be very interesting to see.

The King also said in his speech:
"Muslim women in our Islamic history have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice" 

King Abdullah then gave examples from the times of Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. During the era of the Prophet some women acted as lawyers and people would go to them with complex legal issues, there were female scholars and in general women participated in the society as equals.

It's ironic that the rights given to women by the Prophet over a millenia ago were later taken away by so called religious men and then it took this long for Saudi-Arabia, the birthplace and "model-country" of Islam, to restore some of those rights from times some people refer to as "the Dark Ages". Yet it seems like modern day Arabia is living in a new era of the Dark Age because of how they marginalize women in their societies.

That leads me to think how come major rulings like this can be made, but the problem of women driving still exists? How will the women chosen for Shoura show up for the meetings? Isn't it humiliating if she cannot have the most SIMPLE right of driving, but on the other hand she is able to participate in such an important council?

Is women driving really more momentous than women voting?

What do you think readers? Are the Kings rulings just a way of getting the focus OFF women driving or a prerequisite TO women driving?

As the eternal optimist, I say it's the latter.

More about King Abdullah's mission to improve women's status in the Kingdom:

Read more on the news:
From other blogs:Sabrias blog
Crossorads Arabia:


ahmetanildindar said...

I did not know Blogspot was blocked in Turkey nowadays. It seems I'm using/posting/reading wrong Blogspot here in Istanbul.

Layla said...

Hi Ahmet! I could not reach my blogs from anywhere in Istanbul for the week I was there! It repeatedly just gave me an access denied page. The only page I managed to open was the blogger dashboards!Wordpress had no issues though.
Would be nice to hear your thoughts on the article too :)

Nikki said...

I think the right to vote and run is a bigger deal than the right to drive. I mean, driving is a privilege they should have, yes, but in terms of 'really' changing the system, voting and running have the greatest potential for impact. (this was in response to Faisal).

Anonymous said...

It's only a show for western media. Shora members get salaries only to sit down and smile to media photographer.

Finding My Way said...

I am wondering if women will need permission to get out of the house and vote? I think driving will give women more freedom then voting. It hits closer to home if a woman can drive then if she can vote. But I am an optimist and I believe this is a good step in the right direction.

Alejandra said...

I think it's symbolic, and they might use it to defend either women's right to drive (by using the elections as proof of public approval) or maintain the ban (by using the elections as proof of public disapproval). Either way, realistically due to the low impact of voting regardless of gender, the power of allowing women the right to drive is significantly more powerful and will have a greater impact on society than the right to vote. but this is only my humble opinion and I only study KSA, I've never actually been there lol.

Chick Flick Journal said...

Well Faisal I'm sorry but I completely disagree. It's a really good think that the King is starting this. It's a small step but it is amazing. You can't turn the country 360 degrees over night. With drivers like Saudi men and being the only country in the gulf where women aren't allowed to drive I'm sure it'll be so difficult to adjust if that suddenly changed but when it happens gradually and starts with things like elections and voting its a good thing.

Thank you Laura for this amazing post. I was actually so excited when I heard the kings speech on the news! Haven't seen you around in a while. You've been missed xx

Anonymous said...

I think progress is progress.
Most women may think they want driving more than anything because they see it on a daily basis and can understand how it would improve their life (immediate gratification). However, most probably don't understand politics. Many probably don't even understand what voting is good for and why being in politics would be important.
I hope that some will take this open window without hesitation and enter the house in order to open the door for everyone else.

, but I think the King is trying to point out that there are many important issues starting with womens' place in politics and society.

Anonymous said...

oops, meant to say "And I think the King is..." and then sign my name : )

Anonymous said...

Nicky and Chicky you are probably very young naive and idealistic.
But I am realistic, simply.Voting in municipal elections is a joke. it means NOTHING either to man or the woman voting. Ultimately it is the royal family that hold the power and they will not give women in saudi REAL power, ever.

Chick Flick Journal said...

First of all it's chick not chicky second of all what do you mean by real power? You expect women to rule in Saudi? Where are you from anyway? You know things in the Gulf are different than in other Muslim countries we have our own traditions and culture on top of religion which makes it even more difficult. Men are women aren't equal. God created us different. Don't get brainwashed by the west.

Layla said...

Faisal if you don't clean up your act I will DELETE your comments.Understood?
CFJ-Dont take him too seriously!

Alejandra-I too think its more symbolic and you have understood the Saudi society very well although you have not personally experienced it.

Stephi-I agree, many women couldnt care less about voting.but just the announcement of such rulings is momentous, and this gives those women interested in politics channels for their voices to be heard.

Anonymous said...

Olen lukenut blogiasi jo pitkään ja se on mielestäni hyvin mielenkiintoinen. Suomalaisesta näkökulmasta äänioikeus on tietenkin valtava asia. En varmasti voi mitenkään täysin ymmärtää uskonnottomana länsimaalaisena elämää, jota Saudi-Arabiassa eletään, vaikka olenkin tutustunut kaikenlaisiin kulttuureihin eri puolilla maailmaa. Tämän postauksen kommenteista jäin miettimään kommenttia, jossa ilmeisen nuori nainen kirjoittaa, etteivät naiset ja miehet ole tasa-arvoisia, koska jumala on luonut heidät erilaisiksi. Pystyisitkö jotenkin selittämään tuota ajatustapaa? Kirjoitin nyt suomeksi, mutta voin toki jatkossa kommentoida englanniksi, jos se on mielestäsi parempi tapa.


Sandy said...

I agree with Faisal. And the fact is we were immediately shown just how much women here still ARE marginalized when immediately women were being given trial dates for driving and even worse one was sentanced to lashes - though she'd all ready been given her puishment and it had been fulfilled (a fine). True the King has granted a pardon- for this specific woman but we are still under the fear of what they will do to us for driving. The King hasn't changed that system. And women being able to vote and run won't be able to change it even if elected. Because no real power comes with the position.

I do think it's good what happened- simply because it prepares people for a future more participatory society where women are participants as well. But still a climate of fear and intimidation is being maintained over women without the change they need in their daily rights and needs.

Layla said...

Hi Emilia!Kiitos kommentista oli tosi mukava lukea suomalaista nakokulmaa!
I will reply to your question of gender equality in english if you dont mind so other can benefit from the discussion too!
You ask about the above comment by CFJ about men and women not being created equal.
I am not going to try to explain what she actually meant by "equal" here but in my opinion the words more accurately explaining Islams standpoint would be "were created different from one another, but equal in front of God"

The Quran says very clearly that men and women were created equal as humans with same rights, and they are to be judged by their character and piety.

"Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and will recompense them according to the best of what they did" (Surat an-Nahl: 97)

"O humanity! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other. The noblest among you in Allah's sight is the one who guards against evil(Surat al-Hujurat: 13)

"The believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends and protectors of one another, they enjoin all that is good, and forbid all that is evil, they offer their prayers perfectly, and give Zakah (Obligatory Charity) and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will bestow Mercy on them. Surely Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.[9:71]

When the Quran mentions marriage it often speaks of women and men living together complementing each other:
"Among His Signs is that He created spouses for you of your own kind, so that you might find tranquillity in them. And He has placed affection and compassion between you. There are certainly Signs in that for people who reflect"
(Surat ar-Rum: 21)

"They are clothing for you, and you for them" (Surat al-Baqara: 187) This verse is thought to mean women and men complement and protect each other and that each spouse has equal responsibilities.

The differences of men and women I was referring to are their physical traits and qualities that complement each other. Men are physically stronger for example but women are more "stronger" emotionally. I think all the differences men and women have are quite self evident and proven by modern day science.

I hope this clears the subject up a bit!

Anonymous said...

I am not from Saudi, I live in Colombia a country of Latin America, but I have always feel a lot of interest for arab culture and islam, and I have always been very curious about Saudi Arabia, probably because it is soo different in so many ways from my culture and the way I was raised and educated. Unlike many people that only criticize it and judge it, I actually like it a lot and even though as you, I disagree in some points, I try to keep an open mind. I just want to say that I love your blog and your sense of humor! Also I think you are very brave to write such things, living in a society that might not always appreciate this way of thinking, also I want to wish you very good luck, and please keep up with this great job! Itis always refreshing to read your stories and to learn a little about a foreign country and finally I would like to share with you this video I found about women not being allowed to drive in Saudi: