Saudi women will be allowed to vote and run in local elections, magnanimously granted their king, Abdullah, by the year 2015. While this was hailed by former US President Bill Clinton as one of the biggest changes worldwide, women’s rights in the middle east have only inched 1 step and in only 1 country.
It is shocking to most westerners that Saudi women are not allowed to drive a car! They are allowed to own a car, but they may not drive it, they have to hire a driver. Working women have to spend approximately 30% of their earnings on a driver, explained Saudi Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel. Ironically, however, there are female pilots who are allowed to fly planes!
While women can attend and graduate from law school in Saudi Arabia, they are not granted a license and therefore are unable to practice law. Actually it’s a loop: you have to practice for 3 years to get a license, but you can’t practice without a license.
Curiously, Saudi women do not feel like second-class citizens. This according to the Princess who is married to the 26th richest man in the world. She says
“We’re not backwards. We’re not second-class citizens. Maybe the rules are backwards and the policies are backwards, but it’s not us. We’re educated. We’re very much respected in our families. We’re entrepreneurs, businesswomen, social leaders.”
Taking a big picture view, Middle Eastern countries all seem to struggling for four basic Human Rights –
- freedom of speech,
- political participation,
- economic opportunities and
- equal rights for men and women.
It is hard to look at those four, that we take for granted in the United States, and realize that in and amongst these fundamental tenets of freedom are basic needs like driving a car, voting and being able to use the degree you earned through hard work and persistence.
Bill Clinton may consider this is an historic moment – but to this feminist, there’s a long way still to come, baby!