Time for Saudi women to be more vocal about their rights

Dima Talal Al-Sharif, a Saudi lawyer at the Law Firm of Majed Garoub.
Updated 08 March 2018

Time for Saudi women to be more vocal about their rights

JEDDAH: Often classified as oppressed, persecuted and crushed by the ultra-conservative, male-dominant society, Saudi women must take a stand against the misconceptions and false stereotypes many have of them.
Times have changed in the Kingdom, and Saudi women are gaining more and more rights — something much of the world is still ignorant about.
Many people around the world have been fed wrong ideas about Saudi Arabia’s 32 million population, of which nearly half are women, according to a Step Feed report citing the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.
Women in the Kingdom can and do open their own bank accounts without the need for a male guardian’s permission, contrary to several false reports by renowned media outlets.
Women do have the authority over their own bodies and health as elective surgeries or medical treatments can be freely sought without permission from a male guardian.
“The Law of Practicing Healthcare Professions in Saudi Arabia states in article 19 that the competent patient has the right to decide on the surgery, it means that it applies for both genders,” Dima Talal Al-Sharif, a lawyer at the Law Firm of Majed Garoub in Jeddah, told Arab News.
Since the historical royal decree on September 26 last year allowing women to drive, obtaining a driver’s license does not require a guardian’s consent. “Saudi women are allowed to get a driver's license without permission from a legal guardian,” said Al-Sharif.
Since 2006, Saudi women have been able to apply for their own personal identification cards too, she added.
“As per the King’s instructions, Saudi women will be allowed to issue and renew their own passports without the guardian's permission very soon, in addition to studying abroad and traveling without their guardian's permission,” according to Al-Sharif.
“Some Saudi families allow their daughters to travel abroad without a male companion, be it for tourism or treatment,” said Riham Al-Saadi, 27, a Saudi national who has traveled to several countries without her male guardians. Al-Sharif agreed, saying that some Saudi families allow their daughters to travel alone through the electronic travel permission.
Saudi female lawyers can also plead in Saudi courtrooms, a change that came about after 2013 when the first female trainee advocate was registered, achieving a significant victory for women who were subsequently allowed to practice as lawyers.
Jeddah-based attorney Bayan Zahran became the first Saudi woman to open a law firm in January 2014.
Al-Sharif also pointed out that women have the right to issue a power of attorney by themselves.
Women are also allowed to start their own businesses without the need for a male guardian’s permission, be it a husband, father, brother or even son, explained the lawyer citing the Ministry of Commerce and Investment.
As for renting apartments and cars, Al-Sharif said, “King Salman ordered all women’s procedures to be facilitated since having their own national ID. So she has the right to rent an apartment or even a car. However, most rental offices ignore this and never apply it and require a male guardian’s [permission].”
Applying for a job is another basic right that Saudi women enjoy without the interference of a male guardian.
Claiming that women cannot mix with the opposite gender is not entirely true. While it applies in some workplaces, men and women do interact in public place like malls, restaurants and universities, where female students in Saudi universities have male instructors in classes.
Saudi courts sometimes also grant mothers custody of their children in cases where the father is found ineligible, Al-Sharif added.
Wearing a full-length black abaya is not mandatory in the country either. Women still can wear colorful robes without headscarves in some big cities like Jeddah and Riyadh. Medicine students and nurses publicly move around the hospital grounds wearing a white lab coat.
Al-Saadi said one of the biggest misconceptions she has heard about Saudi women is that they are not allowed to leave the house and they only “cook and obey men”.
“This is very wrong. Thankfully, we are living our lives to the fullest, and all these wrong ideas about us do not exist on the ground.”
A documentary about women in Saudi Arabia would be a good way to educate people, she suggested. “A documentary that shows our lives, how we are happily living. I think this is the fastest way to correct the misconceptions about us.”
Al-Sharif, the lawyer, believes that some of the misconceptions come from women's own lack of awareness of their rights.
In July 2016, an app called “Know Your Rights” was launched by Saudi lawyer Nasreen Alissa, to help spread awareness among her peers.The media plays a major role in marketing inaccurate information and claims too, said Al-Sharif.
“The solution to raise women’s awareness of their rights can be the media itself, through the proper coverage of women's empowerment and the correction of the inaccurate information.”
Her advice to Saudi women is to be more vocal about their rights.
“As a Saudi woman, it’s your turn now to look for rights and to make sure that such rights are known and applied.”

Saudi businesswomen eye greater role in the economy with end to driving ban

The end of the driving ban is expected to help bring an economic windfall for Saudi women. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 June 2018

Saudi businesswomen eye greater role in the economy with end to driving ban

  • The historic move is a huge step forward for businesswomen in the Saudi Arabia, says businesswoman
  • A recent survey by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce indicated that transportation was a major concern holding Saudi women back from joining the labor market

The end of the driving ban will boost women’s financial power and allow them to play a bigger role in economic and social diversification in line with Vision 2030, prominent businesswomen said on Friday.

Hind Khalid Al-Zahid was the first Saudi woman designated as an executive director — for Dammam Airport Company — and also heads the Businesswomen Center at the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

She sees the historic move as a huge step forward for businesswomen in the Kingdom.

“Women being allowed to drive is very important; of course this will help a lot in sustainable development as the lifting of the ban on women driving came as a wonderful opportunity to increase women’s participation in the workforce,” she told Arab News on Friday, ahead of the end of the ban on Sunday.

She added that women in the job market are under-represented; they make up to 22 percent of the national workforce of about six million according to official estimates. Lifting the ban will help to take women’s representation in the workforce to 30 percent by 2030, she said.

“This is not just the right thing to do for women’s emancipation, but also an essential step in economic and social development as part of the reforms,” she said.

She said that there were different obstacles in increasing women’s participation in the workforce and other productive activities, and the driving ban was one of them. It was a strategic issue that needed to be addressed on a priority basis. With the issue resolved, it would help immensely in giving Saudi women better representation as they would help to diversify the Saudi economy and society.

She said that women could contribute hugely to the workforce and labor market as half of Saudi human resources were female, and unless allowed to excel in different sectors it would not be possible to do better, mainly because of restricted mobility.

A recent survey by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce indicated that transportation was a major concern holding Saudi women back from joining the labor market.

Nouf Ibrahim, a businesswoman in Riyadh, said: “It will surely boost female economic participation and help increase women’s representation in the workforce immensely. It will also help to reduce the overall national unemployment rate as most of the unemployed are women and many of them are eligible as university graduates.”

She echoed the opinion that the move would help to bring an economic windfall for Saudi women, making it easier for them to work and do business, and thus play a bigger and better role that would help economic and social diversification in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

“Being able to drive from Sunday onwards after the ban is lifted will be a wonderful experience. Earlier we were dependent on a male family member and house driver to take us to workplace, to the shopping center, school or other required places for some work, now we can drive and that will allow active participation in productive work,” Sulafa Hakami, a Saudi woman working as the digital communication manager with an American MNC in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“Saudi women can now share effectively the bigger and better responsibilities,” she said.