In spite of being a highly modernized country, Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive laws for women. Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are greatly influenced by the religious beliefs of the country’s population. The country is predominantly Islamic with about 97% of the population practicing this religion.
Islam plays a significant role in the Kingdom since Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and the location of the holiest Muslim sites. Strict Islamic codes of conduct are therefore enforced in the social lives of the Saudis. Over the past decade, there have been attempts to fight for greater rights for the women in the Kingdom. These efforts have yielded some change in practices leading to the development of different perspectives on the human rights issue by different groups.
My interest in the topic stems from my concern about women’s rights globally. In my opinion, the rights of women in Saudi Arabia have not improved much over the years. The lives of women are still dictated upon by the male members of the population. While most countries have made significant steps towards improving the rights of women within their borders, Saudi Arabia has largely been accused of making trivial steps.
As the world is exposed to more news and information about Saudi Arabia, the women’s rights issue has attracted more attention. It would, therefore, be enlightening to review how to progress in Saudi Arabian women’s rights is regarded by different parties both within and outside the country. This paper will review the a issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia from the perspective of four different groups including the modern Saudi women, traditional Saudi women, Government officials, and international women’s rights organizations.
Modern Saudi Women
Young women have been at the forefront of a demand for change and they are unwilling to go on living in the status quo, which suppressed women’s rights. The document by Oates highlights the hardships that women face in Saudi Arabia and the steps they are taking to challenge the status quo. As a professional human rights advocate and expert in issues of women’s human rights, the author is able to present a clear picture of the situation in Saudi Arabia though the article.
Oates highlights the activism that young women in Saudi Arabia have undertaken to bring about changes in their country (7). Some increases have been made to women’s rights but the pace of this progress has been very slow with the government offering only minimal reforms. The young generation has viewed this as inadequate and many have started using the internet to call for major changes.
The source demonstrates that young women in Saudi Arabia are unwilling to settle for the minimum reforms to their rights. Instead, they want more rights that will lead to more independence for women in the country. In opposition to the religious conservatives, women want to be given the rights that they feel they are entitled to as human beings.
To increase the likelihood of this happening, women have engaged in advocacy leading to international attention to the women’s rights issue in Saudi Arabia. From this source, I learned that the fight for women’s rights is done with some personal risks for the women activists who might be arrested and imprisoned for their advocacy.
Traditional Saudi Women
Traditional Saudi women, who mostly include older women and devout conservative matriarchs, consider that they have adequate rights in the Kingdom. The article by House Karen seeks to find out the opinion held by older and conservative Saudi women on the issue of women’s rights. House is an expert source since she is an acclaimed Middle East scholar who has published books on modern Saudi Arabia.
The article demonstrates how old women feel that the rights currently enjoyed by women are adequate for them. House reveals that most of these women are in favor of systems such as guardianship that requires all women to have a male guardian who dictates the woman’s public interactions (55).
They earnestly believe that men have charge over women. For example, older women strongly object to the calls for women to be given more rights and freedoms to manage their lives. House reveals that the devout conservatives are opposed to the women who have been fighting for freedoms to travel without guardians or the right to drive as dangerous infidel influences from the West (54).
From this source, it is evident that there are women in Saudi Arabia who feel that women’s rights being championed by the younger generation are because of the influence of Westerners. The source shows that most of the older women are not only passively happy with the women’s rights condition in the country but actually actively resist any form of change that might be proposed.
With such opinions from a segment of the women population in Saudi Arabia, it is hard to bring about change in women’s rights. This source demonstrated to me that the fight for women’s rights is frustrated by some of the women who are comfortable with the status quo. The source will have been more useful if it illustrates on how young women are trying to influence the older population.
Government and Religious Leaders
The Saudi government has engaged in a number of actions aimed at increasing Women’s rights in the Kingdom. The article by Butters illustrates how women are steadily gaining rights and enhanced freedoms because of government action. Butters reveals that government-led reforms have led to changes in the religious police units which are charged with enforcing decency codes (22).
The religious leaders have in recent years issued a fatwa that condemned family violence as a crime punishable by law. This marked a significant deviation from the traditional trend where violence against women was seen as the right of the man instead of a crime. For government officials and religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, the country has made tremendous changes to improve women’s rights over the past decade.
From this source, it is clear that the seemingly small advances in promoting women’s rights by the Saudi government are significant considering the influence that conservatives have in society. Most citizens of Saudi Arabia practice Wahhabism, which is the ultra conservative form of Islam.
Religious leaders, therefore, have immense power and influence in the operation of the society in the Kingdom. The government, therefore, has to consider the wishes of the conservative clerics who exert a strong influence on government policy. According to religious leaders, women’s rights have improved significantly in the Kingdom. This source showed how religion continues to influence women’s rights debate in the Kingdom.
International Women’s Rights
The journal article by Mtango Sifa seeks to review the status of women in Saudi Arabia from an international perspective. Mango’s article is important in this research since it sheds light on the international standard against which Saudi women’s rights are measured. This scientific source sets out to show how Saudi women are denied some rights because of the laws and customs practiced by the Kingdom.
Special consideration is given to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) treaty, of which Saudi Arabia is a signatory. Mtango shows that while the treaty prohibits any form of discrimination of women based on sex, Saudi Arabia continues to exercise pervasive discrimination of women because of their gender (50).
This source expresses the opinions held by international women’s rights movements, which are liberal in nature. From a Western perspective, Saudi women are denied many rights that are taken for granted by women in the Western world. The article demonstrates that Saudi Arabia has a long way to go to fulfill the core Articles presented in the CEDAW treaty.
Discrimination against women is still widespread, and the changes made only address a small portion of this. From an international perspective, the women’s right situation in Saudi Arabia is appalling. This source showed that Saudi women’s rights are still below the standard set by the international community.
From this exploration, it is clear that the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is complicated by the religious beliefs and cultural traditions of the country. In my opinion, the women’s rights issue in Saudi Arabia should not be compared to western standards which are set from a secular perspective. Instead, the rights should be compared to those of other open Islamic states that have liberal rights for Women.
Due to this research, I now appreciate the fact that the denial of some rights to Saudi women is deeply ingrained in society with some women even supporting it. It will, therefore, take significant time for the situation to change in the country.
It would be enlightening to consider the views that young men concerning the rights of women in the Kingdom. This question is important since the perception of young men will influence future policies by the government since men have a greater influence on the policies adopted by the Saudi government compared to women.
Butters, Andrew. “Saudi’s Small Steps”. Time International 174 (2009): 22-26. Web.
House, Karen. “‘I pray my daughters have a life like mine’.” Newsweek 160.14 (2012): 54-59. Web.
Mtango, Sifa. “A state of oppression? Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia”. Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights & the Law 5.1 (2004): 49-67. Web.
Oates, Lauryn. “Women drive change in Saudi Arabia”. Herizons 25.2 (2011): 7-8. Web.