Women in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, Princess Adelah bint Abdallah, daughter of the Saudi king, talked about the role of women in Saudi society. She said that "Saudi women must be given the opportunity to participate in social development in all areas," and expressed her support for women's employment. At the same time, the princess stressed that traditional values must be preserved.
The following are excerpts from the interview:(1) "We Should Keep an Open Mind and Borrow the Good from Other Cultures, Including the West"
Q: "What is the king's view on women's role in the development of the Kingdom?"
Princess Adelah bint Abdallah: "He is keen to expand women's role as active members of society and partners in overall productivity. I wish society understood his vision of Saudi women. He believes that 'a capable woman brings honor to her father, brother and son.' He is confident of women's capabilities as participants in society's development. He wants women to have a greater role, not because they are weaker, but in recognition of their efficiency, sense of responsibility and energy - none of which are inferior to [that of] men. Women are even better [than men] because they are prodded by the challenge to establish their worthiness."
Q: "What is [your father's] view on women's participation in voting and elections?"
Princess Adelah bint Abdallah: "In fact, I don't know. In my view, however, these are things which should come from society itself once it has sensed the need. Society should be convinced of the importance of women's role in decision making. If society does not feel any need for women's contributions, then such things will not materialize..."
Q: "What is your view on the role of Arab women, particularly in the Kingdom? How does their present [role] differ from their past [role]?"
Princess Adelah bint Abdallah: "The role of a woman is very important, whether she is a mother, daughter, sister, wife or a working woman. She is the one who manages most family matters. Her present role has, however, exceeded the basic domestic ones of the past. What we should do is derive maximum benefit from the positive side of this change and minimize the negative. At the same time, we should not turn a blind eye to beneficial ideas and practices from outside the Kingdom. "We should keep an open mind and borrow the good from other cultures, including the West.
There should be a process of a cultural give and take. Western civilization is indebted to Islam on several counts. The only thing is that we should be careful to take the good and leave the bad. Without doing that, we cannot progress. In the age of globalization, it is impossible to erect barriers. Let us take what is best in Asia, Europe, and America, and use it for the healthy growth of our society. "Our women have made remarkable progress. They are very ambitious as well. They believe that if they are employed it is a service to their children and dependents. Their belief that they can offer a better future for their children prompts them to take up any job."
Q: "What about the image of Arab women in the Western media?"
Princess Adelah bint Abdallah: "The Western media often presents a stereotypical image of Arab women. Because of the diversity of the Arab world, we cannot deny that such women [exist] in [our] society. Unfortunately the Western media ignores the more common positive image of Arab women. This is because media people [who] visit us [come] with preconceived negative notions, and [then [look for things] that support their misconception. "A journalist will, for instance, come and talk to me for an hour and in the end her article will have an unfair slant and emphasize only negative points. This practice prompts us to be reserved when talking to Western journalists. I do not claim that our society is without negative qualities but there are exceptionally positive ones as well.
If both sides were presented, they would portray a more realistic picture. "It is also a fact that we point out the negative sides of Western society, such as widespread moral corruption and family disintegration. At the same time, we do not note their positive qualities – punctuality, respect for other civilizations and religions, their hard work and willingness to sacrifice personal interest to protect the public interest.
""Arabs Should Not Be Sensitive to Criticism Appearing in the Arab Media... In This High-Tech Age, No Fact Can Be Concealed from the Public Eye"
"We Arabs are shy of speaking of our merits and achievements; however, since 9/11, we have been compelled to let the outside world know the facts in order to dispel the distorted [notions] about us which appear in the Western media.
The Arab media, on the other hand, used to give woman her due, though at times the negative stereotype also appeared. "It is incorrect to claim that there is no unemployment, administrative corruption and abuse of women and children in our society. These are evils found even in the most advanced societies. Arabs should not be sensitive to criticism appearing in the Arab media. We should not insist on focusing only on our positive aspects. In this high tech age, no fact can be concealed from the public eye.
Reporters from different countries are looking for information... The negative reports about women are advantageous [in that they] prompt the authorities to take serious steps towards solving the problems." "Saudi Women Must Be Given the Opportunity to Participate in Social Development in All Areas and Help Speed Up Social Progress"
Q: "What do you say to those who hinder the Saudi women's progress and [their] participation in the social awakening?"
Princess Adelah bint Abdallah: "It is not reasonable for half the population to be idle while the other half is working for society. That means the work will be completed in twice the time it should take. Saudi women must be given the opportunity to participate in social development in all areas and to help speed up social progress. ""Some Women... Were Disappointed at Not Being Able to Vote... I Told Them:... Any Problem that Concerns Us Can Be Presented by Our Fathers, Sons or Husbands"
Q: "What do you say about the claim that it is Arab men, not women, who make the call for women's rights?"
Princess Adelah bint Abdallah: "I don't blame women for this, because their social and cultural constraints do not permit them to voice complaints too loudly. Some people accept men's views on women's issues more than women's views. It is also true that some men do not like women organizing conferences to discuss their issues. [However], I don't believe that enlightened Arab men are afraid of competition from women. The main thing is dealing with the issues objectively without looking at who is presenting them. "Some women, for instance, told me about their disappointment in not being able to vote in the municipal elections. I told them it was irrelevant who raises an issue in the council. Let it be a man or woman. Any problem that concerns us can be presented by our fathers, sons or husbands. What matters is that someone should raise the issue. In my view, capable persons, regardless of sex, should [serve on] the municipal councils. Capability should be the sole criterion for membership of municipal bodies."I do not support the idea of a quota for women in Arab parliaments as has been suggested. There is no paucity of capable women in our societies. They should have the chance to serve without being impeded by a quota system..."
Q: "Women in every society are troubled by negative phenomena such as divorce, spinsterhood, abuse, and insecure marriages. In your opinion, what unhealthy phenomena [trouble] Saudi women, and how can they be overcome?"
Princess Adelah bint Abdallah: "Whatever the phenomenon, the first step is to identify it, enlighten the public about it and take action against it. This is how we have tackled [the issue of] family violence. First we acknowledged its [existence] and then we organized studies and conferences to find out how to curb it. We also formulated strategies to stamp out the circumstances that breed evils such as family violence, spinsterhood and misyar marriages."
Endnote:(1) Arab News (Saudi Arabia), December 21, 2006, http://www.arabnews.com/?page=21 §ion=0&article=90234&d=21&m=12&y=2006. The text has been lightly edited for clarity.
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