Saudi women make the most of International Women’s Day

1172 views

THE idea of celebrating the International Women’s Day dates back to the beginning of the second half of the 19th century when demonstrations were staged by thousands of women in New York City in protest against the ill-treatment they had been subjected to. They demanded a change in the difficult circumstances under which they were forced to work. Police used force to disburse these demonstrations.

But the struggle by women seeking their rights continued for a long time and New York City’s streets again witnessed women’s march in the beginning of the 20th century. The activists demanded women’s rights such as shorter working hours, better pay, an end to child labor and the right to vote. A group of women workers also carried banners proclaiming “Bread and Roses.”

The campaign for “Bread and Roses” began on March 8, which was later marked as “American Women’s Day”. Later, the struggle of women for their rights began to spread to Europe where the day was observed as the “Women’s Day,” an occasion to highlight women’s economic, political and social achievements. Subsequently many other countries started observing this as ‘Women’s Day.’ Following the holding of the first conference of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Paris in 1945, women were granted holiday on a designated day in some countries. In the year 1977, the United Nations adopted a resolution to celebrate March 8 as the International Women’s Day every year.

The Saudi woman also celebrates the International Women’s Day, but she felt that her celebration was incomplete because she was banned from doing things which are enjoyed by the rest of the women in the world, such as driving a car. At last she was granted this right too after passing several phases of hurdles. At first she was denied of the right on the pretext that it is a taboo in the religion, which was the view advocated by some scholars. However, other scholars rejected this view and emphasized that there was no evidence for forbidding this in the religious principles.

The scholars who had earlier considered it as a taboo were eventually convinced that it was not a taboo but it should be prevented because of the risks that women may experience while driving such as accidents and the women’s inability to do maintenance of any malfunction or damage caused to the vehicle. But this was not at all a convincing justification to prevent Saudi women from driving. The Saudi authorities found that women need to be allowed to drive just like women in other parts of the world and the risks involving in driving are the usual ones for women as in the case of men too.

Another excuse given for not allowing women to drive was that it may not be acceptable to the society. The answer for this excuse was that if we accept only what the society accepts, then there would have been no schools for girls and no television transmission was allowed to air in the Kingdom. Similar would be the case with women’s participation in the Shoura Council or contesting or exercising franchise in municipal elections. In all these cases, when the political decision was taken, there was no objection from any part of the society. On the other hand, even those who opposed it in the beginning welcomed it after realizing its benefits.

The decision to allow Saudi women to drive was delayed a lot, and this delay gave the opponents a weapon to discredit or abuse the Kingdom every now and then. Anyone who looks to hire a driver does not care whether a male or a female drives his or her car.

I recall that the late Minister of Labor Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi was asked when would the Saudi woman be allowed to drive a car? His answer was that the question of driving by a woman was a matter of time. When asked if he would allow his daughter to drive, his answer was that he would not allow her in the beginning but she will drive the car when it becomes common.

Apart from obtaining the right to drive, there are several other remarkable achievements that the Saudi women have gained over the recent years. They have been selected as members of the Shoura Council and municipal councils across the Kingdom. The women law graduates have been granted permission to practice as lawyers after undergoing the necessary training. Introduction of sports in girls’ schools, baby-sitting facilities to support working women, and creation of a fund for meeting the expenses of the divorcees are other landmark achievements

Saudi women still aspire to enjoy more rights that are guaranteed by the Islamic Shariah and thus they are entitled to celebrate the International Women’s Day with women from the rest of the world without having any inferiority complex.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


1172 views