What is it with the tremendous media excitement that followed the announcement of Saudi women being allowed to become members of the Shura Council?
If we stand outside of the box, it’ll appear a trivial matter; almost all parliaments in the world include female parliamentarians, and therefore, why it is surprising to see thirty Saudi women becoming members of the Shura Council?
A long and complicated story, the news is much more than just “a woman and a seat” at the Shura Council. We can look back at a recently issued decision by the kingdom, where shops had been “feminized,” in which women broke the ceiling and were allowed to work in grocery and lingerie stores: even these simple professions have been viewed with controversy within the Saudi community.
Accordingly, it is a courageous decision by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz who worked over the years to enhance Saudi women’s place and status in almost all fields, starting with their right of education to granting them thousands of scholarships so they can study at universities around the world. The king then enacted decrees for their employment in new professions. He has also allowed women to be part of senior government positions, and participate in the management of ministries and diplomatic work that was previously limited to men.
The history books
This is why we are witnessing today change and development, led by the king, that express the modern needs of the country, as well as women's rights; women have always participated in Islamic history and were not locked at home as antagonists claim.
Even in the Saudi local customs in the past, women used to appoint men in the fields of war, business, debate and poetry, but the recent changes have disordered the concepts and roles of women in the community where 90 percent of it moved from rural areas to metropolises; the status of women has regressed rather than evolving.
In fact, the king did not only issue orders in the past years, but he was always expressing his desire in public meetings for the need to grant women new opportunities. He addressed the ordinary citizen who trusts him, his vision and decisions.
Awareness of change?
Although many are aware that the kingdom has changed over the past decades, and women as individuals, have accomplished great achievements both on the local and external level, some people are not aware of the significance of the great step in getting thirty women into the Shura Council: the country is leading the society into a gradual transitional process.
If the government’s plan for women succeeds, it will adjust many rules, increase the economic family income, raise the level of citizens’ participation in the market, and introduce new social values in the perception of women’s status and rights. It is no longer logical for millions of girls to study and graduate from the best universities and then, would not be able to work and participate in the public, political and economic positions.
The unprecedented list of Saudi women that was issued yesterday, those who became the first female members at the Shura Council, included highly-educated women with international expertise. Yesterday was a triumphant day for all Saudis, and after granting thirty seats for women in the Shura Council, we are looking forward to enabling hundreds of thousands of qualified Saudi women to work in different careers and businesses, and witness a change in the market and an advance in society.
*This article first appeared in Asharq AlAwsat on Jan. 12, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.