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Women Awaiting an Opportunity - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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One radical theorist has suggested that when a man lacks free will, or when his will lies in the hands of others, he is like ‘occupied land’, which can be manipulated. In other words, a man performs best when he acts of his own free will. On the other hand, according to the theory, a woman initially represents ‘barren land’, meaning that her decisions and actions need to be nurtured by another force [i.e. a man]. If a woman is not ‘nurtured’, her intellectual and practical capacity remains stagnant and worthless. This analogy serves to illustrate the point of the theory, namely that a man is more influential and effective than a woman, and that he bears the responsibility to nurture her.

Amidst such talk of occupied territory and barren lands, we come to the argument over whether a woman is capable of running a ministry, city or state. Let us first examine America, where women have been granted near-equal rights in the field of labour. Recently, the nation was presented with a choice between two Democrat presidential candidates, each from vastly underrepresented sectors of society, namely an African American and a woman [Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton]. The American public opted to vote for Obama, considering him as the ‘lesser of two evils’.

In the United Kingdom, the media recently sought to provide coverage of Margaret Thatcher, despite her old age and illness. She stood and waved to TV cameras, in order to remind people that there once was a day when a proud woman held a position of power.

As Brazil celebrates Dilma Rousseff securing the country’s presidency, and Fatma Salman wins a seat in the Bahrain Municipal Council, the phrase “the first woman to win…” is circulated throughout the world, as if women have just been discovered.

In Saudi Arabia, women live amidst contradictory conditions. Society rejoiced when a woman [Norah al-Faiz] assumed the position of Deputy Minister [of Education], yet women are still forbidden from selling female clothing in shops. Female students are permitted to study and practice the profession of medicine, despite inevitable gender mixing, and perhaps the physical examination of male patients, yet a woman is not allowed to be a cashier in a supermarket. If anyone can understand such wondrous paradoxes, please explain them to me. The problem does not lie in creating jobs for women that are in accordance with the conservative nature of Saudi society, but the issue is that these jobs are available, yet they are still unattainable. The problem with such jobs is that they offer employment outside of the education sector, a sector which Saudi women have long been shackled to over the past decades. Any deviation from the education framework would cause some people to feel threatened, but such a feeling is an irrational illusion.

Saudi women’s relationship with education is an odd one, for it was extremely difficult for women to gain the right to education, and now it is proving extremely difficult for them to leave the sector. In my personal opinion, women themselves constitute a significant problem for the education system. Women have become an obstacle, hindering the progress of education, because people believe that the education sector is solely responsible for their recruitment, and thus the policies of educational institutions are framed accordingly. Educational institutions now shoulder burdens beyond their abilities, at the expense of other, more significant, qualitative issues.

For anyone viewing the current situation from afar, there are several incomprehensible questions. How can a country with such a diverse landscape and un-chartered geographic territories, suffering from an irregular climate and striving for more environmental studies, fail to employ female graduates of environment science? How can a country, considered to be at the forefront of the chemical industry in the region – with two major industrial cities – fail to secure jobs for female chemistry graduates?

Why should female graduates, who studied economics and business administration, line up in long queues waiting for a job, in a country considered to be highly attractive for investors, with a highly developed financial sector? How can it be, whether due to Shariaa law, customs, or local systems, that a female teacher can leave for school every morning, walking down a valley or going up a mountain, whilst she is prohibited from working for a supermarket next door?

Government officials need to reopen the female recruitment file and study it more objectively, and distance themselves from these futile ideologies. The situation requires a firm standing on grounds of reality, rather than judgments from an ivory tower. To be more explicit, the main objective of recruiting more women in the public sector is not to consolidate their social contribution, or to prove their personal attributes. Whilst these objectives are significant, there is a pressing financial need behind the call to recruit women. Anyone who examines social studies on this matter would conclude that the deplorable financial situation of many youths is a significant cause of mental and behavioural deviation. Unfortunately, it has become crucially important for Saudi women to become academics and physicians, in order to obtain a higher standard of living. Yet the bulk of ordinary Saudi women do not hold university degrees.

“Health and leisure time” were highlighted by God’s messenger (peace be upon him) as two gifts from God which many people could abuse. In our current society, women who hold university degrees enjoy full health, but suffer too much leisure time, due to their unemployment. Unfortunately, they live without an aim in life, a source of income, or a foreseeable future. This all is happening before the eyes and ears of our government officials.

Dr. Amal Al-Hazzani

Dr. Amal Al-Hazzani

Dr. Amal Al-Hazzani is is an assistant professor at King Saud University in Riyadh.

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