Samar Fatany, Saudi Arabia
11 July, 2016
In the Arab world today, there are those who welcome the empowerment of women and support proposals to give women the opportunity to take leadership positions. Of great importance is the need to expose imposed non-religious values, trends and traditions that discriminate against women, marginalize their role and deny them their rights that Islam guarantees. Women who are capable, educated, can be contributing members of society. Progress cannot be delayed until all members of society are enlightened to address modern day issues that educated and professional women can address.
Progressive opinion leaders are speaking out against those who oppose leadership positions for women and their integration into the workforce. They continue to deal with social norms that discriminate against women and urge decision makers to face on-the-ground realities. However, with the majority of government departments being male dominated, women could face resistance from those who will discriminate against them. Women activists assert that men have absolute power to discriminate against women. They reject the male intellectual structures that continue to form the core framework for thought and action. Unfortunately, there are still many who regard women as intellectually, physically, and morally inferior.
There is a dire need for innovative strategies to end gender-based discrimination and eliminate social barriers that inhibit the implementation of legislative and constitutional amendments necessary to accelerate the empowerment of women and enhance their legal status in society.
Social injustice against women requires appropriate and efficient laws so that all are aware of women’s legal rights and so that violators are held accountable for misdeeds.
Government officials in the Arab world need to look into the experience of others and apply strategies that have supported women to reach leadership positions and provided them the opportunity to play a bigger role in public office. There is a long history in advanced societies, of many organizations that worked towards supporting women to reach decision-making positions.
Progressive women who advocate modernity are no longer a minority. Identifying women with potential remains critical. Indeed, if given the opportunity and the proper training, qualified women could play a significant role in shaping public policy. They could likewise assist in providing a more moderate environment to fight extremism and sectarianism. A dialogue between Arab women and women leaders of the international community can also be of great benefit and would serve the interest of all humanity.
Shaping the domestic debate toward positive attitudes and global thinking is a basis for a successful transformation in the Arab world. Women should be part of the national debate for change; their positive contributions can speed up the pace of reform. Reformers will not succeed, and Arab countries will not develop without changing the extremist mindset and negative attitudes toward the position of women in society. As long as a large segment of society continues to undermine the capabilities of women, progress will be limited and Arab countries will continue to lag behind.
The rigid religious practices adopted by a significant segment of women and their hardline religious position have also harmed Arab societies. Many in the world do not view Arab women in a right way because of their hardline religious position that is discriminatory against progressive women. Instead of being a source of strength women have compromised the role of their countries in the international community.
In Saudi Arabia women are finding it difficult to take on leadership positions. They struggle to find employment due to inadequate support from both government and the private sector, a lack of job opportunities and inappropriate work environments. There are no clear regulations that govern the workforce or the business climate.
The implementation of a new ambitious 2030 vision could usher in the change in Saudi Arabia and provide effective strategies to promote the empowerment of women. The establishment of a special committee of women to look into the legal, social, and economic affairs of women would immensely benefit society. Initiatives to implement efficient cooperation between the ministries of justice, education, health, and labor may prove efficient and finally, end the prevailing discriminatory social trends.
The call to support the empowerment of women in Arab societies is a cry for change. In the past, civil societies did not play a useful role in adopting women’s issues and presenting an accurate picture of their problems. Today women advocates have a responsibility to push for more effective initiatives to mobilize the national base toward women’s empowerment. More should be done to highlight the challenges facing women in the Arab world to help decision-makers set the right course for a better future.