Our women... not yours!

January 30, 2018
Our women... not yours!
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

IT has always been a catch-22 situation for Saudis. For long, foreign media and human and women rights organization have been concerned about our women issues. They have always pointed to the driving ban as the mother of all issues. So impatient, adamant and concerned they were you would expect a thunderous round of applause if the ban was lifted.

Well, we did that and more! Much more! Our women have proved themselves worthy enough for higher positions in every field. They now have ministerial positions, Shoura Council seats, as well as chairpersons and board members of universities, state institutions, banks and mega companies. They run for (and win) elections in chambers of commerce and local municipalities.

Recent laws allowed them to drive, manage their own affairs and decide on personal matters, like study and work. They could own and run their own businesses, and get the same support male entrepreneurs receive from concerned public institutions and funds.

They may now attend sports, work, education and entertainment events in a mixed environment. Jobs that were reserved for males are now available for our better half. We now have journalists in higher positions — up to editors in chief (like here in Saudi Gazette). University head of departments, deans and presidents are given to qualified female professors.

In the past, and more now, women may enter business, management, law, medical, engineering and other science and technology schools. Sports, arts, design and decor are parts of their school curriculum, too. They may compete in local and international sports competitions, up to the Olympics.

All things considered, I would say that is progress, don’t you? Still, more good news is expected, not just from the government, but also more importantly from the society. The state has always been a step ahead when it comes to women development, since women education was established in 1950s. There have always been naysayers all along.

Like in other parts of the world, conservatives are wary of too much liberation. Many come from tribal background, others with religious conservatism. It might be easier to come up with new laws, but it is not as easier to change people’s mentality and convictions.

Fortunately, time is on our side. The new generation is well aware and informed. Foreign travel and education, social media, modern communication and satellite TV are opening up the world to our eyes and ears, and bringing cultures closer. A Saudi family today is more aware of its girls’ potential. Women are well informed of their rights. Even old guards of religious schools and tribal cultures are changing — fast. It may not be as fast as we’d like, but certainly the new generation won't see the world from the same perspective of their seniors.

Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan has become the first woman to lead a federation covering sporting activities for men and women. In August 2016, the princess scored another first for Saudi women when she was named by the Cabinet to a senior post in the Kingdom’s equivalent of a sports ministry. A daughter of former Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Princess Reema is a graduate of George Washington University, and is also known for her fashion business and philanthropy.

In Davos, during a session titled Building Saudi Arabia’s Future Economy, Princess Reema expressed her frustration over Western media and women’s rights organizations’ coverage and reactions to recent developments. The reforms taking place, she insisted, were not aimed at satisfying the outside world, but the Saudi citizens.

As for the future of Saudi women, the princess noted that there would be no need to discuss the place of women in society, because “they are already present” in different fields. “The world now began to see us, but we were always present... We were behind the scenes, everywhere and in all fields,” she stated.

“The mother at home is raising a generation, and we must treasure the generations that will represent the country in the future. We also esteem the working woman who represents her country today,” the young Princess stated. She added that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “listens to his people and leads the change to meet their needs.”

“Through our work with the Ministry of Labor and Commerce and others, we created 25 new jobs for women, which did not exist before, and we changed laws to allow the establishment of women’s gymnasiums, which received immediate (positive) response from female citizens,” she told the session.

Addressing foreign investors, Princess Reema said: “Do not look at us from the angle of our oil, buildings or infrastructure; look at the human resources that need training. Human energies are the new oil and the new currency.”

Well said! Well done! World media, are you listening? This is all about and for our women, not yours! They are calling the shots now... give them a break!

— 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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