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Women’s rights: From lingerie stores to the Shura Council | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Why is there this huge media hype following the announcement of Saudi women joining the Shura Council?

For those far away, the issue may appear trivial, for practically all parliaments around the world have female members; therefore what is so exciting about thirty Saudi women joining the Shura Council?

The answer is a long and complex one, and the news is far more than women and seats at the Shura Council. Let me summarize this by recalling that Saudi Arabia recently issued a decision “feminizing” some shops, in other words allowing women to work in grocery shops and lingerie stores. However even this simple decision was viewed as being controversial and was a source of contention amongst some Saudi parties. Accordingly, opening the door to a political institute – such as the Shura Council – to women membership is an extremely courageous decision by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. Over the years, King Abdullah has worked to improve and expand the status and role played by Saudi women in practically all fields, starting with education, providing scholarships allowing thousands of female Saudi students to study at universities across the world, in addition to enacting decrees allowing women to seek employment in new professions. The King also opened senior government positions to Saudi’s women, allowing them to participate in managing ministries and take part in diplomatic work. This is a field that was previously restricted to men.

This is why we are now witnessing change and development, led by the King, that express the modern needs of the country, as well as women’s rights. Throughout Islamic history, women have always participated, and they were not stuck as home as the opponents of this change and development claim. Even in terms of Saudi Arabian historical customs and traditions, women would assist men in the fields of war, business, debate and poetry. However recent changes, rather than developing and improving women’s station, have caused confusion regarding their role, and this is all taking place in a society where 90 percent of the population have moved from rural areas to metropolises.

The reality is that the King not only issued such decrees in the past, he has always publicly expressed his view and desire for women to be granted new opportunities. King Abdullah has always been keen to address the ordinary Saudi citizen who trusts him and believes in his vision and decisions.

Many are well aware that Saudi Arabia has changed over the past decades, and that women – as individuals – have made great achievements, both on the local and international level. However, there are some who are unaware of the symbolic significance of thirty women joining the Shura Council. This demonstrates that the Saudi state is leading society in a gradual transformative process.

If the government’s plan for women succeeds, this will represent a general balance shift, in addition to increasing family’s income, raising the level of citizens’ participation in the market and introducing new social values regarding the perception of women’s status and rights. It is no longer logical for millions of girls to study and graduate from the best universities and then not be able to find work and participate in public life, whether we are talking about employment, society, politics or the economy.

The unprecedented list of Saudi women that was issued yesterday, namely those who became the first female members of the Shura Council, included highly-educated women with international expertise. Yesterday was a happy day for all Saudis, and following the appointment of thirty female Shura Council members, we are looking forward to hundreds of thousands of qualified Saudi women being able to work in different employment sectors and businesses, changing the Saudi market and society for the better.