By Samar Fatany
25 November 2015
The women’s sections in government offices are marginalized and ineffective. They do not have the authority to serve the needs of women or address their problems, according to Abdulaziz Al-Magly, the Director of the Monitoring and Investigation Department of Human Services. The government has lately stepped up its inspection campaigns on various ministries and conducts regular investigations to discover any negligence or inadequacies. It is comforting to know that officials are supporting the official role of women in government.
The appointment of women to the Shoura Council has also given the progressives among us some hope. Nevertheless, progress is still slow and women have yet to create pressure groups in all sectors of society to address social and political needs.
Women face barriers in municipal elections
It is still unclear whether women running for election to municipal councils will succeed and it remains to be seen whether, if elected, society will acknowledge their role on these councils. There are many skeptics who think that there are too many social barriers and that the majority will not support the move.
Many women did not run because of the inaccurate information that preceded the registration for elections. Official rules were deliberately misinterpreted to discourage women from participating. Many felt insulted by claims that any woman who was found in the company of men during the election campaign would be fined or face a prison sentence. Another equally demeaning claim was that women candidates would not be allowed to present their programs in person but needed to appoint a male representative to speak on their behalf.
Unfortunately, there was no immediate clarification of the rules governing the elections. It was later explained that women candidates were required to specify the name of a male representative who would be officially recognized to speak on their behalf in case they were unable to attend a certain function. As for the fines, they were only intended to restrict any individual man or woman from entering undesignated sections of the election headquarters.
The social conflict continues between progressives and extremists who advocate the unjustified discrimination against women in society. The negative attitude toward women remains a cause of public discontent and a source of frustration to many citizens in society today. What is needed is a push for a paradigm shift in attitude toward women.
Meanwhile, women should reflect upon their role in society and should not be dissuaded by those who stand against progress. They need to be more effective in ending male domination that deprives them of their basic rights. They need to be more assertive in rejecting discriminatory laws imposing male guardian controls that include: their right to employment; litigation; the issuance of passports; the execution of private and governmental contracts; and discharge from rehabilitation or detention institutions and others.
The issue of full citizenship for women was recently the subject of a long debate among members of the Shoura Council. Women in the Shoura Council on October 13, 2015 were able to push for the amendment of the Civil Status Law calling for enhancing women’s citizenship and eliminating any form of discrimination against women, especially the right of women to have their own ID cards and the right to pass their citizenship to their children or their husband.
Other discriminatory laws include retirement regulations for women stipulating that a woman cannot have her retirement benefits if her husband is also retired. There are also laws that allow child marriages, arbitrary divorce, confinement and the absolute male domination over women in this day and age.
In the absence of public transportation, women are confined to the four walls of their homes and are unable to practice their right of movement. There is no justification in ignoring this legitimate right at both religious and social levels.
Hopefully, the amendments will eliminate the contradictions in the laws that govern the legal rights of women and will stipulate compliance with the laws with pertinent procedures.
Laws governing civil society need to be amended in order to grant legal permits for social institutions that can protect the rights of women and support the empowerment of women nationwide.
Extremists and ill-informed scholars have twisted facts and made women subservient to their male guardians. Women today should arm themselves with proper Islamic education to confront the rigid interpretations of the Holy Qur’an and adopt the true teachings of Shariah to refute the discriminations against them in the name of Islam.
Those in the Shoura and municipal councils have a duty to help society evolve and support women who may be unaware of a better way of life. They should put more pressure on religious scholars to promote a more tolerant narrative which declares that it is not un-Islamic to adopt a modern lifestyle in order to serve the modern-day needs of women at work and in their homes.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”