The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Progress on Women's Rights 

The King Saud University in Riyadh teaches both men and women. However forget Western notions about boys and girls lying about together on the lawns of Academe discussing Proust. For one thing, Proust is far too risqué. Secondly it's 120-plus fahrenheit out there and there's no grass. Thirdly, of course, the two sexes don't actually get to mix. They are taught in their own complexes, seperated by fences and gates, with their own single-sex staff. (I exaggerate. Sometimes men lecture the women. How? They do it over closed-circuit television, with microphones and loudspeakers for questions).

There was a woman lecturer there called Hatoon Al Fassi; that's her picture above. She was renowned for being outspoken on Womens' Rights and democracy issues in Saudi. She was also renowned for wearing the traditional (and much more colorful and attractive, although still Islam-compliant) womans' dress of the Asir region in the south-west of the country, rather than the "ninja" black head-to-toe number that most wear. She was a darling of the diplomatic circuit, and you'd often see her at Western embassy receptions, getting regular invitations because she presented a modern-yet-traditional outspoken face of Saudi womanhood, and basically was far more interesting that the spoilt, materialistic, trivial, typical Saudi Princess with limited language skills.

Then one day she became a little too outspoken. So what happened? She was hauled into the Dean's office and told that she no longer had a job. About the same time her husband, who worked somewhere in Government, had a similar interview with his boss, and he was out of a job. After all, what do you expect if you can't keep "your woman" under control? So much for Womens' Rights.

So what's the "Progress" I'm referring to? Well, about a year later, following due warnings, she got her job back. That's progress, isn't it? She even gets allowed out to international conferences, so the Saudi Government can show how enlightened it is. How outspoken she is at these I can't say, but I suspect it's much less than before.

Hatoon Al Fassi

And what does our new King and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques have to say about Womens' Rights?

In a recent article in the Arab News (the English-language sister paper to an Arabic-language paper that is about as independent as "Pravda" used to be),

Abdullah to Push Ahead With Reforms

He is quoted as saying

"Abdullah has been a staunch supporter of women’s rights. He said Saudi women have started entering the mainstream of national life and hoped that social attitudes toward them would change for the better within a few years."

Let's put "within a few years" into context. We Arabs have a saying "bukhra inshallah" which translates as "tomorrow, if Allah wills it". And to quote the old joke, "Does "bukhra" mean the same as the Spanish "mañana"? "No, it doesn't have quite that sense of urgency."

So we can expect to see some movement on Womens' Rights "within a few years", Saudi-style. That'll be about the time when the entire country is living in stilt houses because Global Warming has turned it into a tropical swamp. If you wonder why, as a nation and a race, we're so slow, take a look at our bottoms. It's not a subject that obsesses me, but it's a well-established fact that Arab men have wider hips and more cushioned backsides than other races. And God (or Allah) has a purpose for everything. He wouldn't make it so easy for us to sit down if he wanted us to rush around making progress all the time, would he?

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