Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Gulf women are not ready for greater social and political rights | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this Saturday, April 27, 2013 photo, a modestly dressed women enjoy a weekend at JBR Walk in Dubai, United Arab emirates. Just a few years ago, Gulf Arab women usually only felt comfortable showing off their fashion sense at ladies-only parties or family gatherings. In public, at least in their home countries, the standard all-black abaya _ a simple floor-length covering and accompanying head scarf _ was the only culturally accepted option. But now a new generation of abaya designers are giving the traditional garment a twist with choices of fabric, designs and even some expensive bling to allow Gulf women a host of style options. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

If what we mean by greater social and political rights is rights without any specific criteria or control, then I can only say that Gulf women are not ready for this.

The concept of political rights must be clarified further.Based on my own understanding of the question, we can say that women in Saudi Arabia have managed, over a number of decades, to advance themselves in a variety of arenas and have become able to influence society.

Women can participate in enacting laws and in pushing for development, particularly as they constitute half of society. Accordingly, a woman must be given the opportunity to contribute to the country’s development, and to perform an active role in achieving prosperity for herself and her family.

Today, women are capable of engaging in civil activities and are also capable of holding high-level posts. However, women’s participation in society must be governed by the regulations of Islamic Shari’a law, so that they are not rushed in before everything has been arranged and organized. Women must be allowed to work freely within a female-only environment, without the possibility of mixing with males. Modern technology today can help—through the use of teleconferences, e-mail, and so on.

Islam has granted women their social rights—rights that women in Western societies in the US or Europe have not attained. Unfortunately, ignorance of these rights have allowed men to underestimate them.

In my opinion, this problem has not been caused by men alone; women have also played a role in this. When feelings of social injustice have come to the fore, the blame was placed on Islamic Shari’a law, when, in fact, this is blameless. The media also played a significant role in placing this issue under the spotlight.

Therefore, I suggest that women must increase their awareness in order to overcome discrimination and take up the rights guaranteed to them both by the civil law and Islamic Shari’a law. This will allow women to contribute to the development of the kingdom and raise their abilities in decision-making, planning and implementation.

Women must be afforded the rights that Islam guarantees them. Courts and institutions concerned with social issues should be instructed to promote this culture, even among their judges and officials. It is unreasonable for a wife to visit courts for years to obtain the legitimate rights granted to her by God Almighty, whether its alimony or custody of her children, because of a stubborn husband or misuse of power by a judge.

To clarify things further, I think it is necessary to have specialized departments, exclusively for women, to help them obtain their rights, education and remove any obstacles hindering their progress.

Finally, I conclude this by emphasizing that, in my opinion, Saudi women are ready and qualified to hold senior posts. Women are far more capable of planning than men in many cases. However, as I mentioned before, such rights must only be granted under the regulations of Islamic Shari’a law.

They must not be forcibly pushed into the workplace, as was the case previously when the Ministry of Labor allowed saleswomen to work alongside men without sufficient planning and forethought. This resulted in many women losing their rights, not gaining them, as a result of mistreatment from male colleagues and bosses.

You can read the counterpoint to this piece here.