One Step Forward
This week has been a week of reforms. I was extremely delighted to see this headline on the front page of my morning paper on Feb 15th, 2009.
Saudi Arabia appoints first woman minister
Saudi Arabia has appointed the kingdom’s first woman minister in a cabinet reshuffle that also saw the dismissal of four ministers and heads of the powerful religious police and judicial bodies. King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz appointed Noura Al Faiz as deputy minister for women’s education, in a move considered a milestone in Saudi Arabia. more..
I was thrilled to read this. A woman has finally made it to the high command in Saudi. And it wasn’t in some meaningless role either. She would be a woman representing the women’s right to education in the Kingdom. Saudi women usually do not get this privilege. Their education is usually limited to reading and reciting the Holy Quran. They even lack the ability to perform simple arithmetic, owing to a lack of education in the same. Since the Saudi government is ruled by a very strict adherence to their interpretation of Islam, women’s rights in the society are much curbed. They cannot drive by themselves, they should always be covered from head to toe in a black veil when in public, they cannot go anywhere with any one other than their husband, father or brother, they may be one of four wives that her husband has and their participation in decision making, whether it be in family matters or governmental or corporate issues, is generally frowned upon. See further reading below
In spite of all this, some women have managed to educate themselves and there is a slow movement for a change in Saudi Arabia. All they ask is for fairness and equality, something that every human being is born with, but which gets taken away from them seconds after she is discovered to be a she.
Much of my knowledge has come from the book – Princess by Jean Sasson. It is an shocking, yet amazing tale of the true life of a Saudi princess as revealed to the author. I am now reading the sequel Daughters of Arabia, which talks about the life of her two daughters. I would strongly recommend reading these books, as it may inspire someone someday to take up this cause more fervently.
I was surprised at first and impressed moments later to read what Dr Fawziyah Abu Khalid, professor of Social and Political Studies at King Saud University in Riyadh, had to comment on the appointment of Noura Al Faiz as the first woman minister in Saudi Arabia-
“The appointment of Dr Noora Al Fayez as deputy education minister for women’s education department is a small step in the long way to recognize the input of Saudi women in fields of national and private development in the Kingdom,” Dr Fawziyah, a poetess and author of several books on social science, stressed. …
“If someone looks at the empty part of the glass, the appointment of a woman in a government post – even though it is not even to the level of a minister – is definitely good, but is not what women in Saudi Arabia are looking for. We have waited too long to take such a small step forward and time is running ahead of us in many aspects.” more..
Two Steps Back
In the same week, Pakistan in an attempt to curb raising agitation in the North-Western front of it’s country, has ceded to enforce Sharia law in the area. The militants are the Talibans and they have been demonstrating their might, by blowing up (among other things) women’s schools in the area.
Excerpt from Xinhua on 22nd January 2009
The Taliban militants have also banned female education in Swat valley. Officials said that Taliban have destroyed over 150 schools, mostly girls’ schools, in Swat valley in several months. more..
The war has been spearheaded by Maulana Fazlullah, to establish Sharia law in the peacful and scenic Swat valley. The Pakistani government has been fighting a losing battle with them and many see this move as a government capitulating to the demands of terrorist uprising, a model which, seeing the light of victory, would be undoubtedly emulated.
The Talibans for their part say that they are pro-education and scientific advances, but were against the western way of living and culture that was creeping in the Muslim society.
The BBC notes the changing ways of governance in its article which states
It is the first time the strict code, based upon the teachings of the Koran, has been in force in Pakistan in the country’s history.The bill gives Sharia precedence over secular provincial law and stipulates that every Muslim will be bound by it. more..
I cannot say I am against the Sharia, which unfortunately, I have not had a chance to learn, understand and comprehend. My views may also be lopsided, considering that I am only exposed to the bitter manifestations of it. There may be many good aspects about it as well.
However, I wonder if any society which can allow for such manifestations to occur all all as a part of it’s routine functioning can serve as a road-map to a better tomorrow.
– An explanation of the Sharia law by Wikipedia and The Guardian
– Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia – link – Click on Women’s right and go through the 4 reasons why women cannot testify in a court of law.
– The history of the Swat Valley in Pakistan – link
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