Riyadh/Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Dr. Lubna Al-Ansari, a member of the Saudi Shura Council, believes it is unlikely that the tasks of women in the council will be confined purely to women’s issues. According to her, such a notion undermines the role of women in the council, and even in the eyes of the local community.
After being inaugurated last week before the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the new member of the Shura Council confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that women have been admitted to the council not only to deal with women’s issues, but all local issues on an equal footing with their male peers.
She said: “When we took the oath we felt that the decision to admit women to the Shura Council was actually being enforced. We felt eager and enthusiastic, and we had a strong desire not to let our society down.” She added: “The local community’s positive opinion of our performance is the strongest impetus for us to achieve the ambitions of the council, in addition to the confidence that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has placed in the cadres of qualified women”. She revealed that the new female members hope to carry out their mission perfectly, and hope that the king’s decision will bring honor to women across all sectors of Saudi Arabia.
Regarding the mechanisms in place to form committees, and the committees that female members wish to join, Dr. Ansari remarked that women’s issues require the expertise of all committees regardless of whether they are related to economic, environmental, or other issues. She emphasized that it is important for women to be represented on all committees and to be concerned with all issues.
Dr. Ansari added, “The council asks its members to specify the three committees they would like to be involved with. However, at the end of the day, the council has its own specific criteria. There should be a suitable distribution of female representation in all the committees by order of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Women should not be focused in one committee or in some committees but not in others. We should serve on committees related to our expertise. The presence of women in every committee will enrich the process.” She went on to say, “The Shura Council is formed of 13 committees. Thus there should be two or three women members in every one. Huge efforts were exerted for women to reach the seats of the Shura Council in the first place, and myself and the 29 other women members are now qualified to undertake our roles in light of our long careers in academic and practical fields. We want to make big strides in society. I do not think there will be any adversarial feelings between the men and the women in the council, we are eager to work earnestly to give our best.”
Dr. Ansari asserts that the success of women in the council depends on the potential changes that could take place in society based on what they discuss. She pointed out that everyone is currently pained by what is happening in the field of health and education, with regards to women’s references and applications, and hopes to act to bring about changes in these areas. Dr. Ansari added, “This is what we came for and this will be the true measure of women’s performance in the council. We will complement the accomplishments that were made by those who preceded us in past sessions through balance, inclusiveness, and recommendations to bring about the desired changes”. Dr. Ansari did not specify the proposed time-frame to form the new committees. However, she pointed out that the formation will be debated in the next two weeks and that the council is actively working on the subject. “The situation will become clearer soon,” she concluded.
For her part, Dr. Haya al-Mani, another new member of the Shura Council, told Asharq Al-Awsat that she does not want to put forward a private agenda as a woman in the new session, because the council represents a complete system with its goals, vision, and agenda. However, she added that this does not mean she will not outline specific priorities. She revealed that she will take into consideration all the issues that serve civil rights, youths, women, and society as a whole, in accordance with the path of reform that King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz has undertaken. In this regard, Dr. Mani said, “Of course, the issue of reform should definitely be raised and this is the right time to do so. We in Saudi Arabia are going through a prosperous period of self-reform that no one has or will dictate to us. In turn, this gives us more faith in participating in the reform process.”
Answering a question on what women will bring by joining the Shura Council, Dr Mani replied, “The picture will become complete with the presence of women after the stagnant stage that has prevailed for some time. The presence of female members will add to the comprehensiveness of the council’s vision and their contribution will be doubled because by virtue of their nature, women are accurate and meticulous”.
Shura Council member Nura Bint-Adwan told Asharq Al-Awsat that the distribution of the committees will be discussed at the first session. She revealed that she will seek to join a committee dealing with human, educational, and family issues. She added, “It is premature to talk about agendas and goals. The first session represents the first step. After that, we can talk about agendas and goals.”
Finally, Dr. Dalal Al-Harbi, another female member, believes that the admission of women to the Shura Council represents an extension of the vital role that women have played in consultation and expertise ever since the foundation of the Saudi state. Dr. Harbi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The speech that King Abdullah delivered on Tuesday was very significant, particularly since he stressed that change should come gradually and not through other pressures.”