Monday, February 8, 2016

Wasting time on trivial matters

We Saudis don’t like to admit it, but we can be without too much effort a misogynistic society. Harsh? Perhaps. I’m not talking about all Saudis, of course. 
It’s hard to tell when people in positions of authority find creative ways to keep women from becoming part of the decision-making process and be part of the Kingdom’s future. Saudi Arabia is not alone. Misogyny reaches far and wide across all corners of the world.
But here in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques we seem to have a vigorous resistance to joining the 21st century. Our leadership has directed us to the path of reform and inclusion of women in the workplace and to receive a university education. Some of our brightest minds are now working in the private sector. King Abdullah issued a royal decree that put 30 women on the Shoura Council, which, by the way, has hardly caused a single negative ripple in the fabric of Saudi society. To the contrary, the inclusion of women on the council has created a new dynamic that has included meaningful debate on women’s issues that up until a few years ago were never discussed.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has continued those programs. It’s obvious that the Saudi government is investing in women to bring about positive change. These points, however, are lost on the men of the Jeddah Municipal Council, who seemed to be so frightened of sitting next to two newly elected female council members that they demanded that they sit at a separate table partitioned with frosted glass from the rest of the council. If you ever wondered why Jeddah’s sidewalks are crumbling, the neighborhood parks are total wrecks and parking at commercial centers is virtually impossible, now you know why. The men of the municipal council feel threatened working with women and rather focus on keeping them at harm’s length. They don’t even want to see them.
This incident, which occurred recently at council meeting, is a slap in the face of every Jeddawi female. Their temper tantrum disrespects the forward-looking work of inclusion of Saudi women in society. The council has completely lost sight of what it means to be a Muslim and to be Saudi. They refuse to look at the Shoura Council as a role model for their own council, in which their sole purpose is to advise the municipality. 
As long as a woman wears the hijab and is modestly dressed, there is no prohibition in Shariah against men and women mixing, so whatever legal excuses municipal council members are claiming is fantasy. The two female council members subjected to this harassment, Dr. Lama Al-Sulaiman and Rasha Al-Hifzi, would not be cowed by these fellows and demanded their seats at the table. They ultimately prevailed much to the consternation of their male colleagues. The women’s victory comes after a battle that should never have been fought.
It all boils down to whether we really want to progress as a nation. And the answer from the Jeddah Municipal Council is “no.” The council rather haggle over seating assignments than help govern its city.

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