Friday, September 10, 2004

Municipal Elections: Women Only Helpless Spectators?
Maha Al-Hujailan, Arab News

Several commendable efforts have been made to highlight the role of Saudi women as citizens with guaranteed civil rights in building the nation and achieving economic progress. The efforts have included national dialogues that attempt to map out a future with more freedom for women. Women have consequently been offered more employment opportunities and increased participation in nation building. Employment opportunities have undoubtedly been improved with the opening of a women’s section, staffed by women, at the Riyadh Passports office. Further, Labor Minister Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi has issued orders to expedite measures to open separate women’s sections in government offices in the service sector in line with a Cabinet decision.

Despite intense efforts to establish women’s role in overall development, the upcoming municipal election is not clear regarding women. Women fear the possibility of laws banning them from elections. It is ironic that women are present in plans for the future but no importance is given to them when the plans are executed.

There is no justification in excluding women from the upcoming elections because there will be no undesirable consequence if they are allowed to participate. A healthy society is composed of both men and women, working together for the common good. Everyone knows that we have no dearth of hardworking women who are proud to serve their country. Their patriotism is no less than that of men. It would be better if the election regulations had clearly stated women’s rights to contest and vote in the election.
It is unfortunate that questions are being asked about Saudi women’s eligibility to participate in the election compared to women in other parts of the world — as if other women were more intelligent and capable than the women in the Kingdom. The absence of women’s voices in the municipal election will undoubtedly have a negative impact on social development. There is every indication that women’s roles will be marginalized in nation building. The inevitable consequence will be that men will monopolize the process of making plans and regulations. Women will not have the right to change the regulations laid down by men which affect them. Such a situation will undoubtedly reduce the importance of women’s role in society.

The exclusion of women from political activities amounts to legitimizing a dangerous mentality founded on the notion that women have only a marginal, or no, role in nation building. Relegating women to an inferior position will also reinforce the backward view that a woman’s opinion does not deserve to be listened to because she is only a dependent of her father or husband, brother or son. The view is deeply damaging to the position of women in the country. They are too often treated as worthless burdens on the shoulders of men. Women’s inferior status, both politically and socially, will only increase their dependence on others. According to the custom of the land, women are mere appendages of men without an independent identity.

By supporting an ideology based on sexist concepts, the whole society stands to lose an opportunity for a great social transformation with far-reaching consequences.
This article is not an attempt to establish women’s worthiness to enter politics. The point to be emphasized is that citizens should not be discriminated against on the basis of sex. Saudi women have repeatedly proved their worthiness to serve the nation as much as Saudi men.

I believe that there is still time for the election authorities to review the matter so that a person’s sex does not prevent him or her from contesting or voting. I also believe that the authorities should take all necessary steps in advance so that women will fulfill the necessary conditions and cast their votes without let or hindrance.
* * *
(Maha Al-Hujailan is a Saudi writer.)

No comments: