Monday, December 12, 2011

Women's Rights: Bring Them Into Focus

- I've been putting these little italicised fore-notes at the beginning of several posts now; I guess I'll keep the 'tradition' going. The following was written in response to an article in the Saudi English newspaper Arab News ( about women's rights; it won't make much sense unless you read the article first.

To The Editor:

I am a Muslim Saudi woman. Though I am elated at the news of a conference being held on the all-too-needed topic of women's rights here, the content of your article had me doubting whether the conference really accomplished what it set out to do.

Let's start out being positive, though. I must agree with your headline: "Muslims Cautioned Against Looking At Women Through Western Prism". Why are we even looking towards the West for guidance in women's rights? 1400 years ago under the Prophet Muhammad women were granted rights to inheritance, to vote, to equality, to humanity... which women in the mud hovels of the Middle Ages -mired West totally lacked. Now, without a doubt - we need to stop deluding ourselves - we are not following our own religious teachings (when did the Prophet Muhammad prohibit women from riding donkeys?), and we are taking for ourselves the very worst aspect of Western women's "liberation": immorality. The question for Saudis, Arabs and Muslims is: when, where and why did we fall behind? More importantly, how do we now catch up, and improve?

Now, a conference about that would be very interesting.

To continue: I find it staggering that in an article covering a women's rights convention, 5 of the 6 speakers/moderators mentioned are men. The one woman is tucked into a footnote at the end, not even quoted. This is part of the problem: when will men stop speaking for women?
Their endeavors on behalf of women are much appreciated. However, these social problems
will never be solved if they keep listening to no one but themselves, repeating
they've been saying for many years: "All is well". It's not. I'm sure if you asked the average Saudi woman, she would not agree that "all her needs are provided for". Transportation? Nope. Independence? Nope. Right to work? Oh, they're still discussing that. Mentioned in one of the lectures was 'women having illegal sex and getting abortions'. Those women did not
impregnate themselves. As with all problems, the blame cannot be skewed to one
side. We need to stop blaming the women for moral bankruptcy in society. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes.

That said, let's not point fingers at just the men. Women are at fault, too. Many display astonishingly bovine behavior towards very real problems in their own society. Acceptance of the status quo, if they are personally not affected, is rife. I've had people tell me that they are
not affected by the driving ban, as they have drivers: "why should they care?" Many women conduct themselves in a way totally bereft of decorum and dignity, much less their supposed 'faith'; why are women who call themselves Muslim walking around malls in drag queen makeup? This merely lends fuel to excuses to hinder women's rights on the hollow basis of 'preventing immorality'.

Point is, the women are not pristinely innocent creatures either: no one is. What we most need to understand is that these issues in Saudi Arabia - and the world as a whole - are not part of a 'gender war': this is a comprehensive social problem. We need to honestly face it, and ourselves, if we are to go anywhere, and if we are ever to find solutions.

And God, how I sincerely hope we do.


  1. Thank you for not displaying "bovine behaviour" and for sharing this post! Unfortunately even here in the west, women are still being marginalised...