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Empowering Saudi women | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi Shura Council. (Asharq Al-Awsat Photo)

Is it really true? Have Saudi women really been appointed to the Shura Council as full members, without prejudice, exception or curtailment? All of these questions were on the minds of Saudi women as they listened to the royal decree appointing 30 women to the Shura Council.

My God, isn’t it sweet when dreams become reality? This time the issue passed smoothly and peacefully with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques securing a victory for women, based on Saudi women’s accomplishments and decades of determined pursuit of academic qualifications and successful achievements.

This also drew attention to King Abdullah’s confidence in Saudi women’s ability to put forward objective and substantive views.

All issues relating to Saudi women-even if these are relatively simple- always create controversy as a result of the interlocking cultural differences present in Saudi society.

This soon shifts to become a huge ball of complexity that is impossible to untangle.

This means that women’s causes remain in suspense, between those who support this and speak up on its behalf and those who oppose it.

It is also no secret that even the terms used in discussions regarding issues important to women are subject to scrutiny. For example, the word “empowerment” is not viewed favorably when looking at strategic projects relating to Saudi women’s future. This word is always replaced by the term “consolidation” or “improvement” because “empowerment”-unlike the latter two words-indicates a continual and on-going process of change, particularly as this is based on the word “power”.

The state of affairs has changed and time does not flow backwards.

What happened was not something ordinary; it is a change in the very structure of Saudi society’s cultural roots. We cannot consider the royal decree that one fifth of the Shura Council should always be comprised of women as a mere administrative decision, rather this reflects a complete shift in women’s status and faith in their influence.

History will record that King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz extended a helping hand to Saudi women, enabling them to overcome tremendous cultural obstacles, significantly shortening the time it would have taken Saudi women to achieve this “empowerment” on their own.

King Abdullah will go down in history as the leader who sought to achieve the principle of equal citizenship rights between men and women, laying the foundations of a new principle that ultimately changed the country’s future features.

In fact, this historic step was initiated by the King himself; this was not taken by virtue of public opinion or popular support. If Saudi women had waited to enter the Shura Council as a result of their own efforts or support from society then they may have found themselves waiting for a long time, perhaps a century.

The Saudi people today are comparing the Shura Council with Scandinavian parliaments in terms of female representation. Regardless of any other considerations, the mere presence of female Shura Council members represents our desired objective; it does not matter how woman were admitted, or how and where they will be seated inside the council chambers or even how they will express their opinions.

Rather, what matters is that Saudi women now possess this important and valuable right.

Saudi women have broken the sound barrier and can now vote “yes” or “no” inside the country’s the Shura Council; this is a historic leap that is not too different than Felix Baumgartner’s famous skydive in which he broke the physical sound barrier.

It is very important that we all believe that this “empowering” of women is not a luxury, nor is it part of media propaganda. This is a crucial building block in the country’s development and something that can no longer be ignored in view of the critical need for both Saudi men and women to participate in all fields, particularly in light of an Islamic cultural background of female participation in political work and social activity.

Amidst this jubilant climate, we must remember that the appointment of female Shura Council members does not mean that they must shoulder the burden of improving Saudi women’s overall status or resolve all issues overnight, nor should they solely focus on women’s issues.

Such demands would not be realistic and the presence of men in all parliaments across the world does not mean that all problems have been resolved or all obstacles surmounted.

Female participation at the Shura Council is a solution to the biggest problem facing Saudi women, namely that of curtailing or limiting their role in society.

Therefore, the royal decree specifically alluded to the fact that women will enjoy full participation at the Shura Council alongside their male colleagues. This marks the beginning of something important, and this is something that will outlast the four year term of office of this batch of Shura Council members.

I congratulate myself and all Saudi women who view this decree as a good omen and who are reassured to finally realize this historic achievement which is something that we have long dreamed of.

I also congratulate the virtuous Saudi women appointed to the Shura Council on the royal trust that has been shown to them, and this is a trust that we reciprocate.

Each of these female Shura Council members represents a success story in their own right, and success breeds success.

With immense gratitude, we would also like to express our appreciation to King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz for his wisdom and vision.

Since the kingdom opened the path for women to enter education in the 1950s, we have never experienced a qualitative leap like that represented by women being appointed to the Shura Council. King Abdullah is a genuinely sincere man who is dedicated to his country and its interests, and he will be well aware of the positive results of this courageous step.

A new page has been turned in the life of Saudi women.

From Saudi girls going to school to Saudi women being empowered in the Shura Council; this is a story of struggle that truly deserves to be told.