By Arab News
By Samar Fatany
The king has spoken. Women will be allowed to run and vote in municipal elections and become members of the Shoura Council. This was announced on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2011, a significant date to be remembered. It will mark a turning point in the history of Saudi Arabia. The political decision to empower women will definitely change Saudi society and end an era of discrimination against women. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah will go down in history as a reformer who paved the way for progress in Saudi Arabia.
In his inaugural speech at the third year of the Shoura Council’s fifth session, King Abdullah rejected any marginalization of women in any domain and encouraged their participation citing the examples of prominent women in the history of Islam. He said, “All people know the role of women in the annals of Islam and their positions cannot be marginalized.” This was a statement that showed determination and force to empower women and end any attempt to undermine their role in the name of Islam. It demonstrates a firm stand against people who are resistant to change and do not support the empowerment of women.
The marginalization of women in society was the main factor that slowed the progress of this country. In his speech, King Abdullah recognized the need to modernize and spoke against those who oppose progressive thinking and are reluctant to give women their due rights. He defied the hard-liners who are obstacles on the path to a better future. He said, “Balanced modernization in line with Islamic values, which preserve rights, is an important requirement in an era with no place for the weak and people with indecisiveness.” The monarch called on Saudi citizens, both men and women, to ask for their rights and achieve their goals in dignity. He openly attacked those who reject reforms and welcomed the participation of citizens in the decision-making process.
He also warned those who are arrogant and defy moderate Shariah guidelines that they will have to bear the consequences of their negative positions. He said, “My brothers and sisters, you have your own rights according to Islamic law to achieve your goals with pride and dignity. It is our right to seek your opinion and advice according to Shariah guidelines and the fundamentals of religion, and those who stay away from these guidelines are arrogant people and they have to bear the responsibility for their actions.”
The decision to allow the full participation of women in nation-building is a bold step in the right direction. It was received with great joy and jubilation across the country. Today we can safely say that the road to progress has been finally paved. Excluding women from leadership positions and not taking into account their opinions on major decisions that affect their lives was a source of frustration to many. Women now are more optimistic and can hope for a more productive and prosperous society. The time has come for them to act as equal partners with men in order to build our nation and overcome our challenges with determination and hard work.
The new royal decision to include women in the Shoura Council and their participation in municipal elections is a major recognition of their capabilities and qualifications. It will definitely change the negative attitudes of society toward them. From this day onward no one will have the right to trivialize the role of professional and educated women or treat them with disrespect or contempt. We are witnessing a new beginning that will usher in positive attitudes and create a healthier environment. Our children will grow in an atmosphere of hope and enlightenment and they will be inspired by the success of their mothers and sisters to contribute toward the welfare of their country.
It is such a relief that the demands of the educated elite among Saudi women are finally granted. They will be able to speak on behalf of women who are oppressed and underprivileged. They will be able to address women’s issues and motivate them to become active citizens who can help Saudi Arabia advance and prosper. The task ahead is very challenging. Women in decision-making positions must now live up to the expectations of the king and the whole country. As members of the Shoura and municipal councils they are required to outline the challenges that have slowed progress, and identify the policies that have undermined their role and contributions to society.
King Abdullah’s vision to revise the status of women has endeared him to all the women in Saudi Arabia. He has reiterated on many occasions his support for the integration of women into the work force and welcomed their contributions to achieve economic and social prosperity. Today he has crowned his reform movement with the decision to include them in public life. These women who will now be in leadership positions have an obligation to act as role models for future generations in order to build a socially, politically and economically strong and progressive nation.
From this day onward everyone in Saudi Arabia and the whole world will be monitoring the new role of women as decision makers. Let us wish them all success to achieve their goals with pride and dignity and pray for King Abdullah who initiated the empowerment of Saudi women. Long live King Abdullah.
— Samar Fatany is a Jeddah-based broadcaster and author.