Saudi women in municipal councils: One year on

Saudi women in municipal councils: One year on
A Saudi woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Jeddah, on Dec. 12, 2015. (AFP)
Updated 20 December 2016

Saudi women in municipal councils: One year on

Saudi women in municipal councils: One year on

JEDDAH: A year ago, more than 130,000 Saudi women out of 1.48 million eligible citizens registered to vote for the first time in municipal elections for 6,917 candidates, 979 of them women.
Hopes and expectations were raised as history was being made in the Kingdom, with Saudi women celebrating and exercising their long-awaited right to elect and get elected, and hence to participate in their country’s politics. One year on, the experience has been one of success, obstacles and disappointment.
“I’m convinced that if men are able to express their views, so are women,” said elected Qatif Municipal Council member Khadra Al-Mubarak. “If men have the right to propose project ideas and work to accomplish them, so do women.”
The concept of elections is new to Saudi society, especially to women. Last December marked the first electoral experience for women, while 2005 was the first for men. Only 21 women were elected, while 17 were appointed across the Kingdom.
“I believe that it’s an essential step toward gaining more rights,” said Hatoon Al-Fassi, general coordinator of the Baladi Initiative, which was involved in training female candidates and voters ahead of the elections.
She said women are responsible for creating the image they want to reflect through their work.
“Whether women’s involvement has been superficial or not depends on the members themselves and on the free space they’re given to work,” said Al-Fassi, who is a Saudi writer and a visiting professor at Qatar University.
Two-thirds of members were elected, while a third were appointed in 284 municipal councils across the country. Women formed only 14 percent of total candidates.
Achievements and challenges
Upon being elected and appointed, the 38 women members across the Kingdom started holding meetings with their male counterparts to discuss projects in their areas.
Some are allowed to sit at the same table, while others communicate solely via a televised circuit.
This has created frustration and anger among some, which drove elected member Lama Al-Sulaiman to resign. When contacted by Arab News, she declined to comment about her experience.
“This issue has shifted focus from political efforts and national participation to the inability of dealing with women; that a man can’t stand having a woman sitting at the same table of decision-makers,” said Al-Fassi. “Some men feel the decisions that women take could threaten them. This is pure sexism.”
Qatif Municipal Council member Al-Mubarak’s experience is different. She has completed a number of environmental projects in collaboration with her male colleagues without facing any communication hurdles.
“When you sit directly with other members, propose ideas and discuss them, the outcome and interaction will surely be faster than communicating in two different rooms,” she said.
To Al-Mubarak, being a woman in the council is like having a new channel through which women in society can deliver their concerns and complaints.
She said her male colleagues are welcoming and cooperate productively with her and her proposed projects.
“There’s no such thing as women’s work and men’s work. Tasks aren’t divided by gender,” she said.
“Work should focus on developmental activities for everyone. Half of society was out of the picture when it comes to development in society. It has been a suitable work environment and fertile soil to accomplish many projects.”
Al-Mubarak aims to integrate disabled people into society and help them be independent in their day-to-day lives outside their homes.
“I want to help make government buildings and general facilities accessible to people with special needs,” she said.
Municipal councils act as advisory boards that monitor and evaluate municipal services before coming up with recommendations and proposals.
Proposals are approved by executive bodies such as the municipality or ministries in charge before being implemented.
“This bureaucracy delays executing projects,” said Al-Mubarak. “Some officials at the municipality look at councils as a burden, and this is an obstacle in the way of completing projects. Both bodies need each other to accomplish.”
Being segregated from men at municipal council meetings is among the challenges facing the only remaining female councilor in Jeddah, Rasha Hefzi. “This has been a challenge for me and has affected the pace at which work is done,” she said.
Hefzi is in charge of major districts in west Jeddah that are home to about 900,000 citizens. She worked on a project to improve the efficiency of the 940 municipal services hotline, which receives calls reporting the need to close excavations or holes in the streets, which is a common problem in the city.
She also started a neighborhood council initiative to emphasize communication between the municipal council and residents of the area she is in charge of.
“The neighborhood council oversees the districts and coordinates with me in order to stay informed of the services these districts need. This helps accelerate responding to the needs of these districts,” she said.
Masouma Al-Reda, one of two elected female municipal council members in Al-Ahsa, devoted this year to empowering women who are skilled in handicrafts.
She worked on setting up markets around the houses of families that produce products and handcrafts at home.
“Al-Ahsa is known for its innovative and productive women who work from home. I worked on offering them the appropriate space to allow them the chance to enhance their work,” said Al-Reda, who is also an active family affairs consultant.
She and her colleague communicated with their counterparts via televised circuit. “I can’t generalize, but from my experience, Al-Ahsa, men are very supportive of women and work with us hand in hand without discriminating or marginalizing us,” she told Arab News.
“I’ve worked very hard to change the shallow stereotypes of the municipal elections being simply superficial.”
Future aspirations
The three councilors Arab News spoke to reiterated that this first round has set solid grounds for women’s participation in future rounds.
“I advise future candidates to inform themselves and start being active in municipal work early so they’ll be more productive,” said Hefzi, who has been involved in municipal work in Jeddah since 2007.
Al-Reda says she strives to set an example to young women to whom she teaches Arabic at school.
One of her students now leads a group of girls who promote the culture of volunteer work in society.
Al-Reda said her activism existed long before the elections, but being at the municipal council has enabled her to achieve more.
“I want women in the next rounds to be eager to participate and not be repelled by the negative stereotype,” she said.
“There’s a lot that can be done, and like any project there are achievements and failures. We should focus on the positivity in the experience.”
Al-Mubarak encourages a more positive attitude when looking at women’s experiences during this round.
“It has been a wonderful experience so far and extremely fruitful, unlike what has been said that it was symbolic or superficial,” she said.
“Women are in charge of changing that image. They have to be accomplished and productive.”
Al-Fassi said because the number of women members was small in the last round, the impact has been limited.
However, “I believe that women will be better aware in the next rounds and will have more demands for real participation rather than a superficial one, so they’ll be more influential.”


Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan
Updated 11 May 2021

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrates another successful Ramadan
  • Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Abdulmajeed Hashem chose for his charity

 

 

JEDDAH: With Ramadan drawing to a close, a family and friends charity celebrated the success of their ninth consecutive year in operation ahead of Eid festivities.

Abdulmajeed Hashem, the 25-year-old founder of Jeddah-based charity Khair for All, told Arab News about how his family and friends played their part in giving and lending a helping hand this holy month.

Whilst endeavoring to get involved in the spirit of Ramadan aged 16, the Jeddah-born Hashem discovered that local charities in his area had too many volunteers. However, he knew that there was no cap on good that can be done — so he founded his own charity.

Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Hashem chose for Khair for All.

“We started in about 2012 with a small group of my cousins and friends. We decided to start by giving out meals for Iftar Sayim,” Hashem told Arab News.

Iftar Sayim is the charitable act of providing ready meals, usually dates, water, laban and a sambosa, to Muslims in Ramadan for them to break their fasts with.

One month worth of essential food items laid out in batches ahead of packaging and distributing. (Zeina Sweidan)

“That simple beginning turned into something that grew in size, in number of volunteers, in effort — we just kind of started from there and it naturally grew.”

Hashem and his team purchased Iftar Sayim meals using their own money and began distributing them in the suburbs of Jeddah — soon they found themselves in a daily routine they could not do without.

“Meeting here everyday, setting up the packs and distributing them ourselves has really been a bonding experience with our group,” he said. “We really enjoy this activity — it’s become a part of our Ramadan that’s very important to us.”

A less fortunate suburb in Jeddah receiving Khair for All monthly packages. (Hussain Abedi)

The global health crisis did not stand in the way of the charity’s vision for 2021, and while adjustments had to be made and precautions taken, they swiftly adapted and made the necessary changes for another successful Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has played a role in getting the youth moving, according to the Khair for All founder. “I feel like with the new direction a lot more of my friends have been more willing to volunteer,” he said. “More people are ready to go and take on these projects.

“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in enthusiasm and energy in the past few years, and I think it’s very much linked to the direction of the country.”

Khair for All sets no limits on where and how it can be of service, and so ventured into more sustainable projects in which their effects will be seen in the years to come.

While Iftar Sayim is the basis for why Khair for All began, in 2014 Hashem and his team discovered that there were more ways to help the community than to simply help break their fasts.

Khair for All volunteer stuffing monthly packs of essential food items into the back of his car just before the Maghreb prayer — the time in which Muslims break their fasts. (AN/Zaid Khashogji)

“We later shifted to giving monthly packs,” the Khair for All founder said. “We kind of understood that families needed something more stable, something that would make them not have to worry about where their food was coming in for the next month.”

Since then, packaging monthly supplies consisting of basic goods and necessities has become the primary activity of the charity — and they soon found themselves working with local schools.

“We like to have more of a lasting impact in the places we’re helping out, rather than just providing a meal and then going back home,” Hashem said. “We want to provide something to the communities that we can see grow ourselves, so we’re really focusing a lot on education.”

Hashem and the team began pooling money together each year to improve the state of impoverished schools in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 emphasizes a lot of the power the youth can have,” he said. “We believe any way we can make the schools a better learning environment for the kids would be a way of having a more lasting impact.

“We do a lot of work getting new chairs, painting and providing internet — and I hope we can continue to do more things like that in the future.”

Hashem believes that more direct communication with people in the community is necessary to address the real underlying issues, rather than just basing measures on assumptions.

“Basically, put our energy into what they tell us they need,” he said. “Talk to everyone there, and get to know them really well — that way, it’s addressing actual problems.”


Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan

Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan

Saudi civil defense reports some damage after Houthi projectile hits Jazan
  • The Iran-aligned Houthi group regularly fires drones and missiles into Saudi Arabia
  • On Monday, the Arab coalition said it destroyed an explosive drone that was fired at Abha’s airport

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s civil defense said on Twitter early on Tuesday that a Houthi projectile had fallen in a border village in Jazan in the south of the kingdom, resulting in some damage to a house and cars but causing no injuries.
On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen said that it had intercepted an explosives-laden boat south of the Red Sea and destroyed an explosive drone that was fired at Abha’s airport.
The Iran-aligned Houthi group regularly fires drones and missiles into Saudi Arabia. The coalition says it intercepts most of them.


Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa

Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa

Saudi Arabia condemns attacks by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has condemned attacks carried out by Israeli forces at Al-Aqsa, a foreign ministry statement said early Tuesday.
The actions have caused concern in the Muslim world as the site is one of the most religious in Islam. 
The Saudi ministry of foreign affairs strongly condemns the attacks carried out by the occupation forces at Al-Aqsa mosque transgressing the safety and security of the worshippers, the statement said.
Saudi Arabia urged the international community to hold Israel accountable for the escalation of the events and calls for the immediate cessation of any exacerbation violating the international pacts and treaties, it added.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian authorities have reported the deaths of 20 people, including nine children, as Israel attacked militants who fired rockets at Jerusalem. 
Police fired tear gas and stun grenades inside Al-Aqsa Mosque and at least three Palestinians lost an eye after being struck by plastic bullets that witnesses said were aimed directly at their heads.
Tensions on the Gaza Strip border with Israel continued to mount following recent violent confrontations at the mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.
The mosque is in a hilltop compound that is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism. Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

— With input from AP


Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind
Prior to the pandemic, Eid celebrations were marked by family gatherings where people used to enjoy traditional cuisines. However, now people have limited their visits and avoid large gatherings due to health concerns. (File photo)
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind

Saudis ready to enjoy Eid Al-Fitr with health precautions in mind
  • COVID-19 pandemic may have muted celebrations but fails to dampen people’s spirit

RIYADH: As many Muslims around the world eagerly await Eid Al-Fitr to celebrate with family and loved ones, Saudis have shared their annual routines on the festive occasion, which for many, are the best part of the whole celebration.

“I wait eagerly for Eid, and I always try a month before to go to the public and popular markets with my sons and daughters before the crowds to prepare for the occasion,” Husain Al-Anazi, a human resources operations supervisor, told Arab News. He buys whatever his family needs such as clothes, supplies and sweets.
On the Eid day, Al-Anazi goes to the mosque, where he performs the Eid prayer, and then returns home “I return to the parents, brothers and children. I greet my mother, sisters and children. Then I go to greet the elderly in their homes, especially my uncles, aunts and some of the elderly relatives,” he added.
After completing the morning tour, he returns home at noon to take a nap until the afternoon to catch up on sleep, since he is used to staying up late during Ramadan. He then goes to the majlis (sitting room for guests) in the afternoon and prepares tea and coffee for visitors.
In the evening, Al-Anazi goes to the meeting place of his relatives, where a special dinner for the family is held in either the house of the eldest relative or a separate rented location. Once the dinner wraps up, he goes to his friends on a break to greet them and play cards.
In the following days, he travels with friends to any place they decide to visit.

My favorite food during Eid is mansaf, a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, and served with rice.

Asmhan Al-Fuhaiqi

As for Bandar Al-Ghayeb, a security worker at the Saudi Electricity Co., he rarely spends the whole Eid period with his family and relatives, as he works on a shift basis at the company.
He instead visits friends in the neighborhood, who prepare Eid meals (mostly grilled foods). “We don’t eat too much. We eat in a symbolic way, as if we are tasting food.”
Al-Ghayeb said that he also visits some relatives and other friends on the same day after taking a nap. Although he is usually physically exhausted, he feels psychologically comfortable, as it is a day where he is able to meet many people, including friends who he has not seen for years.
Al-Ghayeb is also keen to preserve the habit of “eidiya” every year, where children are gifted money by older members of the family.
The best moments of Eid for Saudi housewife Asmhan Al-Fuhaiqi are the morning of the first day, especially when she starts to put on new clothes.
“Performing Eid prayers has a special feeling. Then we meet together as family members at my father’s house, where we start distributing sweets to the guests,” she told Arab News.
Al-Fuhaiqi added the spirit of Eid shines through when groups begin to light fireworks in celebration.
“During Eid, I would be busy buying supplies, including clothes and accessories, and since I live in the town of Tayma, I cannot get everything I need, so I go with my family to the city of Tabuk (110 km away), which is the closest city to us” she said.

I go to greet the elderly in their homes, especially my uncles, aunts and some of the elderly relatives.

Husain Al-Anazi

She added that one of the most difficult things to buy during Eid is clothing, as she has to ensure that the size fits so that she does not go all the way back to Tabuk.
On the night before Eid, she makes sweets and puts them in the reception room before dawn, and perfumes the house with incense and oud.
In the past, Al-Fuhaiqi was keen to go to the prayer hall next to the city, which feels “beautifully different,” however, the situation changed after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and she instead visits the nearby mosque.
The family then begins to receive guests in their home, distributing gifts to the children and supervising the fireworks. “Although it is risky, I feel that fireworks give a wonderful atmosphere for Eid, so I make sure that I am the one who lights the fireworks myself, not the children.”

I will be very happy during Eid, because we visit many people, and many also visit us in a short period of time.
Ruaa Rashid

She said that her favorite food during Eid is mansaf, a traditional Arab dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, and served with rice or bulgur.
Saudi child Ruaa Radhi told Arab News that her mother bought her a dress and beautiful shoes a few days ago for Eid, and bought enough fireworks from the market for her and her brothers.
“On the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, we will meet with my grandmother at her house in the presence of my aunts who live in other cities, where we will have dinner together, which is a cooked lamb that my mother and aunts cook,” she said.
Radhi’s maternal uncles usually gift her toys and sweets for Eid every year. “They usually give us light footballs and balloons. Indeed, I will be very happy during Eid, because we visit many people, and many also visit us in a short period of time.”
Nayef Al-Moaini, a Saudi engineer at Ma’aden, said that, for him, the celebration of Eid starts the night before, when preparing the house is one of the most important parts of the annual celebration.
“Celebration of Eid Al-Fitr often includes holding banquets for several days to celebrate the visitors, including our relatives coming from outside the city,” he added.
The second day of Eid is a fixed day for Al-Moaini’s family feast, which includes his uncles, their children and his neighbors.


Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia
People are seen in the Mall of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 11 May 2021

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia

Eid shoppers urged to be wary of virus risk in Saudi Arabia
  • A Saudi ministry of Health spokesman noted that the fluctuating case numbers are a positive sign, but reiterated that the country is not in the clear just yet

JEDDAH: As the daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia continues to hover between 950 and 1,100, authorities are calling on residents to remain careful and vigilant as they prepare for Eid Al-Fitr.
With the holiday only a few days away, shoppers are urged to remain on high alert and choose online shopping rather than visiting packed malls. Warnings have been issued that store closures are imminent if commercial establishments fail to abide by the required health and safety precautions and ensure social distancing is maintained.
It comes after more than two weeks of rising numbers of infections during Ramadan to more than 1,000 a day, which authorities said is the result of people failing to follow rules on social distancing and gatherings.
On Monday, health authorities in the Kingdom recorded 986 new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), meaning 427,370 people in the country have contracted the disease.
The highest number of new infections was in the Riyadh region with 339, followed by the Makkah region with 283, and the Eastern Province with 131. Only two regions reported single-digit increases: The Northern Borders, with eight, and Jouf, with five.
An additional 1,076 people have recovered, according to health authorities, raising the total number of recoveries to 410,816. This means the recovery rate in the Kingdom has increased slightly to 96.1 percent.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia recorded 986 new infections on Monday.

• 1,076 more people have recovered from the disease.

• The death toll rises to 7,085 with 13 new fatalities.

The number of active cases has been decreasing lately as recoveries increase. A Ministry of Health spokesman noted that the fluctuating case numbers are a positive sign, but reiterated that the country is not in the clear just yet. “The fluctuation could be an indicator that the cases are stabilizing,” he said on Sunday.
According to the figures announced on Monday, there are currently 9,469 active cases. Of these, 341 patients are in critical condition. Thirteen additional deaths related to COVID-19 were reported, raising the total to 7,085.
More than 10.6 million doses of COVID vaccines have been administered since vaccinations began in December. Nearly 31 percent of the Kingdom’s 34.8 million population have received at least one dose.

A total of 70,822 PCR tests for COVID-19 were carried out in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of tests in the Kingdom to nearly 17.6 million.
Saudi health clinics set up by the Ministry of Health as testing hubs or treatment centers have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country since the start of the pandemic.

Taakad (make sure) centers provide COVID-19 tests for those who show no, or only mild, symptoms or believe they have been in contact with an infected individual. More than 9.7 million tests have been conducted at Taakad facilities.

Tetamman (rest-assured) clinics offer treatment and advice to those with more severe virus symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, fever, and loss of taste and smell. They have seen more than 2.5 million patients so far.

In addition, the Ministry of Health’s 937 call centers have received more than 35.2 million inquiries from people seeking medical advice.