A new era for Saudi women



Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi

Published — Saturday 12 January 2013

Last update 12 January 2013 2:19 pm

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Great leaders make big decisions to change their society and bring about greater progress and prosperity for their people. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decision to appoint 30 women to the Shoura Council is a historic one that would bring about tremendous changes in society and heralds a new era in the history of Saudi women.
The move is in line with the remarkable progress achieved by Saudi women over the past few years, especially in the field of education. King Abdullah has given equal opportunity to Saudi women, like their male counterparts, to pursue their higher studies in reputable international universities, providing them with scholarships and other benefits. This has increased the number of highly qualified women in Saudi society.
The king’s new decision is in line with the "gradual progress" policy adopted by the Saudi leadership. The Saudi leadership wants to support women, open up new areas for them to work in and appoint them to leadership positions. It also takes into consideration the local social and cultural situation.
The royal decree issued by the king said the decision to appoint women to the Shoura was taken after consulting leading Islamic scholars in the country, including those on the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars, who have endorsed women’s participation in the council.
The participation of women in the Shoura at this rate (20 percent), which is one of the highest in the world, gives a clear picture of political reforms introduced by King Abdullah to improve the condition of women and modernize society.
These decisions will have a great impact on changing the perception of Saudi society toward women and their role in it. It will also open the door to making more important decisions for the benefit of women in the country.
King Abdullah has made a number of decisions that have sent clear messages about his keenness to improve the condition of women and support them in becoming equal to men in modern Saudi Arabia.
He appointed a woman as deputy minister of education and allowed women to vote and to run in upcoming municipal elections. Again, all of these decisions are in line with his policy of taking gradual steps to modernize society.
The government is also serious in creating more job opportunities for women in different fields. Although there was some controversy regarding women working, the government has signaled that it will go ahead with the program for the welfare of society. It has encouraged the private sector to appoint more women after providing them with necessary training. The Human Resource Development Fund finances such training programs.
This new development may surprise some foreign observers but for Saudis these steps are quite natural and essential. The culture and tradition of societies impose certain situations that would not be understood by those who deal with things with the language of logic. Changing the mentality of a society will require gradual steps in order to avoid clashes and setbacks. Saudi society changes along with the change in its people. Fifty years ago, most people were against girls going to school as they believed it was against faith and tradition.
Changing the traditional culture is a long process and the matter should not be left to the government alone. Social institutions, media organizations and intellectuals have a big role to play. Of course, political support from decision makers and other government authorities is also imperative.
Saudi Arabia is changing and the decision to appoint women to the Shoura aims at creating a modern Saudi society capable of interacting with the modern world while sticking to its basic Islamic principles, which has been the Saudi state’s long standing policy.
Saudi Arabia has started the new year with a decision that carries more than one message brimming with optimism about a year that hopefully has plenty of good things in store.

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