Monday, October 29, 2012

Saudi Women Use Art to Examine Their Role in Society

Saudi Women Use Art to Examine Their Role in Society
CDHR’s Commentary: Despite the many hurdles and restrictions imposed on Saudi women by their government and male-dominated society, they are making their voices heard and demanding their rights as equal citizens known to their government, media, male compatriots and the international community. Due to the Saudi gender apartheid system, women have long been relegated to a second class citizens’ status and consequently denied their most basic rights such as freedom of movement, mobility and even access to lifesaving medication without their male relatives’ approval.  

However, Saudi women are becoming increasingly more creative, bold and defiant, as exemplified by the art exhibit of three Saudi women that opened recently in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The exhibit focuses on “questions of identity and freedom” and addresses women’s issues and by extension the crippling attitude, policies and practices of the Saudi system toward women. Fittingly, the exhibit is called “Soft Power,” which testifies to the courage of these Saudi women who defy severe constraints and challenge their number one foe, the religious establishment, in a peaceful, but extraordinarily effective manner.

Not only are these three imaginative and creative women artists using their talents to express their feelings and point of view, they are also chipping away at the austere religious establishment’s severe opposition to images that depict anything they consider un-Islamic. Saudi artists, women and men, are beginning to use art frequently as a form of protest against the multitude of social, political, economic and other societal illnesses. Women are making measured progress in Saudi society, from art to law, albeit at a snail’s speed, but they are determined to break all taboos placed on them for no reason other than their gender.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Saudi Women: The March is Irreversible

In September 2011, King Abdullah decreed that women would be appointed to the Shoura Council for the 2013 term, and based on this royal decree, the Shoura Council has begun to prepare itself and the chamber for the arrival of the would be appointed female members if the King’s decree is upheld.

Membership in the Shoura Council is an important step for Saudi women, who have long been marginalized by the male-dominated Saudi system. Women lack a voice in government and in society, as they are often seen as less than full citizens. This is due to severe institutionalized discriminatory restrictions on women, known as the male guardian system. However, women are increasingly and unabashedly standing up for their rights and demanding equality as full citizens, including the right to vote, full employment, and mobility, such as the right to drive.

Despite the measured psychological and social significance of appointing women to the Saudi national Consultative Council, Majlis Al-Shura, a closer look at the powerless council raises the question of whether the inclusion of women in the council will make a difference or will legitimize the regime’s deception by appearing in favor of women’s rights, while in reality enforcing social injustice. The council’s current 150 male members are appointed and paid by the King based on their loyalty to the ruling family, answering only to the King and not to the Saudi people. The would be appointed women members will similarly be appointed and paid by the King based on their loyalty to him and his family; therefore, they will not be representing the interests of the overwhelming majority of Saudi women.

The Shoura Council has no legislative power. The council cannot initiate, pass or enforce laws and while the council advises the King, he is not required to accept any of its suggestions (and he rarely does, if ever). For example, all decisions, including budgets, are initiated and determined before they are sent to the council for review and suggestions. Appointing women to the council is not likely to make one bit of difference in terms of changing the powerless council’s authority or the Saudi system’s continued discriminatory policies and practices against women. However, the fact that women will be appointed to the council is a positive step for women in achieving their usurped legitimate rights.

After being denied their basic rights for decades, small steps, albeit cosmetic, are important for women in Saudi Arabia. No one has any illusion that appointing women to the Shoura Council will result in quick and easy progress for them, but it is a step in the right direction because the more they gain recognition as full citizens, the stronger their demands will be and the less their enemies in society and institutions, especially the “religious” establishment, will be able to stop them from participating in and contributing to the political, social, economic, and educational well-being of Saudi society. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Educated, Unemployed and No Longer Invisible, Despite Black Covering

CDHR’s Commentary: Ninety percent (90%) of unemployed Saudis are women. They are educated, able and eager to earn an honest living, but are denied the right to work. This is happening in a country that employees an estimated 7 million foreign nationals in its public and private sectors. However, after being marginalized by their government and society since the inception of the Saudi state in 1932, women are silent no more. They are not only speaking up against their repression; they are advocating for a reorientation of Saudi society and the government’s political and economically driven discriminatory policies, dressed in religious and traditional excuses no one buys anymore, if they ever did. 

Saudi women are demanding not only to work, but also to drive themselves to their places of employment in order to emancipate themselves from financial and mobile dependence on their male relatives the government’s handouts. Despite the resistance of the state’s autocratic and theocratic rulers and traditionalist males to women’s call for equality, women are slowly making their voices heard and some of their demands are being realized, albeit in a very limited way. 

One of the major achievements Saudi women have accomplished in recent years is an increase in employment at stores that sell women’s lingerie.  A number of years ago, a few courageous women, led by a Jeddah-based economics professor, Reem Asaad, organized a campaign to implement a shelved royal decree that called on businesses that sell women’s lingerie to hire Saudi saleswomen to replace the mostly foreign, male workers.  The campaign gained domestic and global attention and propelled the Saudi King to support the women’s movement, or “Bra Revolution,” as described by some media outlets

Despite Saudi King Abdullah’s support for the lingerie and make-up shops’ requirement to employ only Saudi saleswomen, it is evident that the government is doing very little to enforce this royal decree. Foreign workers continue to dominate industries that Saudi women are supposed to be operating in. In addition, the regime seems hesitant to increase employment opportunities for women in other fields. Instead, the regime is focusing on the “Saudization” of jobs (requiring employers to hire Saudis to replace foreign workers) in fields that are off limits to women.

A conference held on October 3rd in Riyadh, entitled “Maximizing the Employment of Saudi Women,” discussed issues that lead to the exclusion of women from the public and private Saudi workforce such as the strict gender-regulation rules as well as how employers can create work environments for women that remain in line with the religious guidelines and cultural traditions that severely restrict women’s freedom. 

Continuing to prevent Saudi women from using their full potentials to build a better and more prosperous country is hurting Saudi Arabia financially, politically and socially. A recent report by the British-based Oxford Strategic Consulting, which was presented at the Riyadh conference, found that increasing the number of Saudi women in the workforce would significantly increase Saudi Arabia’s GNP as well as boost productivity and innovation in the Kingdom. The report even gives suggestions on how to increase women’s participation in the workforce despite the numerous destructive limitations imposed on women by their institutions.

Despite the Saudi regime’s unstated reasoning for restricting women’s full employment, women are a force to be reckoned with and continuing to repress them can only lead to instability and a violent outcome. Like their counterparts in other Arab countries, Saudi women are leading the way in transforming their country’s pre-modern institutions and male-dominated perception and treatment of women. The Saudi oligarchs are pursuing a failed policy toward women. It is hard to understand the Saudi ruling family’s state of mind. 

How can the ruling princes not understand that millions of educated Saudi women see the world differently than their nomadic mothers and grandmothers who could not read or write? How can the ruling princes not understand that modern, educated Saudi women spend much of their time on social media, debating their dissatisfaction with the status quo? Saudi women and men did not spend the recently celebrated national day dancing and singing in the streets (as it is not allowed), but instead decried their government’s failure to realize that the Saudi people, especially the younger generations, are part of a fast-changing world in their region and globally.

Monday, October 8, 2012

When Trust Leads to Heinous Crimes

CDHR’s Analysis: The institutionalized destructive gender segregation (Gender Apartheid system) in Saudi Arabia has resulted in a multitude of social, political, educational and economic impediments to national unity, productivity, constructive competitiveness, religious tolerance and human development. However, Saudi women are the targets of the brutal, politically and economically instigated gender segregation system.  

In a tragic crime similar to the case of the wrenching gang-raped Bint Al-Qatif, (daughter of Qatif), Saudi women can be punished for being raped while sitting in public negotiating the return of photos they gave to men they trust but who, in turn, threaten to use the photos given to them out of love to blackmail the givers.

Saudi women are an easy target for men’s heinous aggression because of the Saudi male dominated institutions, especially the arbitrary Saudi religious courts which are staffed by men who consider women less than full human beings and responsible for luring men to assault them.

However, women are not only rejecting the imposition of men’s control over their lives and livelihood; they have also become the most outspoken citizens against social injustices, discriminatory policies, intolerance, inequality and government’s inconsistent domestic and foreign policies regarding human rights.

What the international community, especially in the West, does not seem to understand and appreciate is the fact that Saudi women’s rights cannot be achieved without defeating the forces of darkness in Saudi society, namely the religious extremists.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Saudi Authorities Denied Nigerian Muslim Women the Right to Worship Unless…

Saudi Authorities Denied Nigerian Muslim Women the Right to Worship Unless…

CDHR’s Commentary: As portrayed in this article, the Saudi male-dominated cultural and political mores and practices, especially as they relate to women, are overstepping all borders of man-made and divine laws, including denying women their God given right to fulfill their religious obligations. One of Islam’s five pillars is the pilgrimage to Mecca by all “able bodies” at least once in one’s lifetime, known as the Hajj. A group of Nigerian women embarked on an expensive and long pilgrimage journey to Saudi Arabia to perform one of their religiously commanded pillars, but were held hostage at the port of their arrival in Saudi Arabia and deported back to Nigeria because they were not chaperoned by male relatives as the Saudi system demands of all women, regardless of their status within the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is the only country on earth where women’s movement, education, work, marriage and health are controlled by men under a denigrating system of institutionalized male guardianship. This system is designed to render women as perpetual minors, regardless of how educated, achieving, intelligent, old or rich they may be. Even though this system is attributed to tradition and religion, it is purely crafted and put in place by the Saudi authorities for political and economic reasons. Now the Saudi autocratic and theocratic rulers are enforcing their contempt for women on other societies worldwide.

By insisting on its bigoted policies against women, the Saudi regime is contributing to the divisiveness and instability of the country. Millions of educated and aspiring Saudi women are challenging the Saudi regime and its zealous religious establishment’s primordial policies and practices against gender equality. Women are demanding full citizenship including full employment, equality in the state’s segregated educational system, voting, driving and removal of the denigrating male guardian system, which the Saudi authorities used to deny the Nigerian Muslim women the right to perform Hajj, pilgrimage.

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