A leading woman member of the Shoura Council has urged the government to provide women parity with men in terms of citizenship rights for their children, retirement benefits and home loans.
Thoraya Obaid, the first Saudi Arabian to head a UN agency and former executive director of the UN Population Fund, said that the children of Saudi women married to foreigners are denied the same rights as the offspring of their male counterparts.
Speaking at a Women's Month function to honor her organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah, Obaid said she had a frustrating time trying to get Saudi citizenship for her daughters from her marriage to a Lebanese man.
Princess Adela bint Abdullah, who spoke at the same function, also called for greater empowerment of women around the globe.
Obaid demanded that children of Saudi women should be allowed to become citizens, with the rights and benefits of other Saudi children.
She said women Shoura members participated in discussions on all issues, including finance, tourism, health and education, and can submit private proposals. Clause 29 of the council's regulations allow women members the right to suggest new regulations without any discussions.
They want to amend retirement regulations that are “biased against women.” The current regulations state that a woman worker is not entitled to full benefits if her husband receives a pension. This was another example of unjust and unequal treatment of women, she said.
The members also proposed drafting a code spelling out the rights of divorced and separated women, and amending regulations governing the sons of Saudi women. She said most government departments have ignored a ministerial order to treat the sons of Saudi women and expatriate men as citizens.
Obaid called on community organizations to work hard to bring about more change in society particularly around women’s empowerment.
“Just as we demand better medical services in regions far from major cities, we demand equal rights with men in getting real estate loans,” she said.
Princess Adela said that women represent half of the world’s population and need the support of organizations, ministries, and civil society institutions.
She said there was a misconception held by many communities, especially Muslim ones, about women’s rights. She said Islam provides equal rights for women, with prescriptions against discriminatory practices that would reduce their social and economic participation.
She said many Muslim communities were failing to apply principles of gender equality. Greater effort was needed to reinvest the wasted capacity of women, she said, quoting a statement from the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him: “Women are the twin halves of men.”
Princess Adela said reforms could only take place with the active participation of women.
She said Islamic organizations must work to ensure women can take their rightful place in society, with full legal rights. They should also conduct campaigns to prevent violence and abuse of women.
She said women are affected by economic, social and security concerns, as much as men.