Saudi women are driving good news!

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IT is not easy to get used to good news! Not in this era or world! But last week, many of our overdue dreams were realized — all at once. We expect more of the same. If so, we may finally find enough reason to change our attitude from gray to bright!

For decades, some questions have been haunting me everywhere I went in this world — in summer British schools, US colleges, international conferences and seminars, as well as, the Western media. Questions about women rights were among the most persistent — and hardest to answer.

First, you need to explain how the religion of Islam has nothing to do with the shortcomings of some Muslims. Then, you go some distance to explain why wouldn’t a system in a Muslim country adhere to Islamic Shariah. And once you clarify the influence of social customs and traditions, you may have already lost your audience!

During a recent conference, my American colleague was patient enough to go with me through all the above phases, before she asked: how could we help? I told her any help from your direction would complicate things. Saudi women are already doing their best to change society from within. They managed to reach many levels, including ministerial, and positions that were reserved for men in the past, such as security.

Today, they vote and run for offices in municipality and chamber of commerce elections. Some become chairwomen of banks and mega companies. A third of our Shoura Council members are women — more than in the US Congress and most European parliaments. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has just lifted restrictions on their ability to study and work without the approval of their guardians. Girls are more than half the student population with better grades. They had the same opportunity as males in scholarship abroad, again with higher scores. Once they graduate, they enroll as doctors, nurses, engineers, bankers, scientists and university professors, side by side with their male colleagues.

Those are more important accomplishments, in my opinion, than driving a car. Still, women right activists around the world seem to be concerned most with just this one issue, and surprisingly unaware of the giant steps taken in other areas. Just wait a bit longer, I advised, keep to the sideline, and let our women continue their march. Soon enough more achievements will be realized, including car driving, I promised my American colleague.

We had this conversation just last month. Last week not only the ban on women driving was lifted, but we are about to have a “sexual harassment” law. Importantly, the new driving law would treat male and female equally, including the starting age of 18 and the no-need for parental approval. Those are giant steps for our better half! They deserve them and more.

Now, I feel the urge to call my American colleague and all others whom I promised the change to tell them: Didn’t I tell so? Yes, we did it! But on our own! No one could dare to tell us we changed under foreign pressure. It was a homegrown movement, supported by both male and female, of different ages and backgrounds, from all parts of the county, including conservative areas. The Saudi people have spoken, and a majority gave their vote to the new law — religious scholars and tribal leaders included.

The next step, we are now calling and waiting for, is the “Protection of the National Unity” law against racial, gender and religious discrimination. Hashtags advocating the law became top trends in Twitter. It is a march we started years ago. It went through the Shoura Council, and is still there. Like any monumental change, it was resisted. Society was not ready then, but now, we believe it is. In such favorable environment our hopes are sky high. Soon enough, I expect the law to be approved with a royal degree.

Good news does come sometimes unexpectedly. I hope they continue and we get used to them. Ameen!

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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