JEDDAH: Kholoud Al-Fahad, 32, believes women’s rights are God-given — but they have been lost or stolen and need to be regained.
She is talking about a woman’s inheritance right, and the right to see justice against those who take it away. She seeks public libraries, gyms and cultural clubs for women. She wants adequate housing units for widows and poor or abused women. She wants strong sexual harassment laws to protect workingwomen from chauvinists and perverts.
To this end, Al-Fahad, a blogger and former journalist, and others have organized a public opinion campaign called Stolen Rights.
“We started the campaign with activists and women who are already working in the field,” she said.
Stolen Rights aims to foster a social movement to change the status of women in society. The campaign is collecting signatures to deliver to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
Al-Fahad said the struggle for women’s rights is more than just listening to reports and making declarations about change. “Even activists are not active and enthusiastic enough,” she said.
Like a lot of social movements these days, Al-Fahad is utilizing the Internet to spread the message. “We opened an online public conversations on Paltalk (an online instant messaging service) to deliver the message to the average Saudi woman and man,” said Al-Fahad.
Stolen Rights also has a website: http://sites.google.com/site/stolenrights/stolen-rights-1
Al-Fahad said the efforts have incited some backlash.
“We have received threats from the extremists,” she said, adding that she thinks these angry voices help feed extremism that is ignorant of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
“Many women think their job is to stay at home to serve their men, even if they are abusive,” she said.
The role of women in the Kingdom has long been defined as a wholly domestic one. There are no women in the Shoura Council. The professional glass ceiling is low, with only the most exceptional (or well-connected) women gaining promotion or professional respect. Women must get permission from their guardians to obtain a passport and travel.
The above concerns are just a few of the 27 issues mentioned by Stolen Rights. Al-Fahad wants the women of the Kingdom to stand up and realize that their assigned roles in Saudi society is not about religion but rather a matter of paternal control that represses women’s voices.
“Fourteen hundred years ago, during the Prophet’s time, women had a role,” she said.
Al-Fahad says critics of women’s behavior focus on trivial matters like how women shape their eyebrows. Meanwhile, these same critics are neglecting to address horrible cases of rape, incest, custody and divorce.
“Such important issues are apparent on the surface and they’re not being resolved,” she said.
The objective of the campaign is to create a new generation that understands the role of women in society and to put an end to the practice of exploiting Islam to justify flawed views on women’s rights.
Al-Fahad says she would like to hear more moderate voices in religious advocacy: “Change will take place when moderation overtakes extremism.”