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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Saudi women: the long road ahead


In Saudi Arabia, women must have a male guardian to do the basic things that, to women in the U.S. and other Western nations, are routine activities.

Scrutiny fell upon Saudi Arabia’s cultural practices, specifically those regarding gender, when women were granted the right to vote … in year 2015.

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz granted women the right to campaign for and be elected to the Shura Council, the kingdom’s top advisory council, during the next political session in 18 months.

In response, the Western world rightfully stood up and applauded the kingdom’s step in the direction to give women basic human rights.

For example, women are banned from driving cars, and most public buildings and private residences have separate entrances and exits for men and women. Women need their guardian’s consent to fly on airplanes and to travel in and out of the country.

And now, women still need their guardian’s consent to exercise their newly acquired rights to vote and be elected to official positions, since women cannot legally drive themselves to work or voting polls.

So, were rights actually given to women at all?

To understand the behind-the-scenes causes and effects of the topic, the gender segregation Saudi Arabia practices is an attempt to preserve the honor and reputation of women in the eyes of the Saudi public. This gender segregation is practiced in order to create a “pure” Islamic society.

Saudi culture has chosen to keep this guardian system practice alive in their daily routines, and the recent grant for women’s political involvement has drawn attention from Western nations who wish to judge Saudi Arabia’s lack of gender equality.

According to the Global Post’s interview with the Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz Aal al Sheihk stated that the reform leading toward gender equality, including that of giving women the right to vote, were “plots of the enemies of Islam who seek to destroy the faith.”

However, in the past five years he has recanted this idea and instead supports King Abdullah’s reform policies to give women more rights, including education and the recent political rights.

According to the Global Post, “This turn of events is yet another illustration of the dynamics at work in the centuries-old alliance between the Saudi ruling family and the kingdom’s ultraconservative religious establishment.”

Many active events might be responsible for swaying the Grand Mufti and King toward granting more rights to women, including the recent driving protest, in which many women drove cars illegally. This action made the point clear that many women really do want reform and change, and they are beginning to show it publicly. Giving women the right to vote was one of the first steps of this reform.

Granting these rights might be a signal of more gender equality in the nation, but the guardian system still keeps women limited within those rights.

According to the Christiam Science Monitor, “The king could be granting these limited rights in order to prevent the kind of protests and revolutions seen in neighboring Arab states.”

As Saudi women have already taken to non-violent fighting for more freedom, their voices are simply being watered down by Saudi Arabia’s rulers.

Granting the right to vote gives women hope that in the future other requests for their rights might be heard by the Saudi governance. But in the present, these voting rights are still being granted in order to be contradicted by the guardian system. This leaves Saudi women with, in actuality, barely any rights at all.

Maybe the old cliché is true — you win some, you lose some.

But when Saudi women have their foot nudged in the doorway and are not able to fully open their path to liberation, giving up cannot possibly be an option. . 

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