Louisa Ackermann

Is a feminist revolution coming to Saudi Arabia? Probably not.

Things are changing in Saudi Arabia. Last year they sent female athletes to the Olympics for the first time, Prince AlWaleed bin Talal is pushing to lift the ban on female drivers in order to decrease the reliance on foreign drivers, and the Kingdom is reportedly letting women ride bicycles now, although only for ‘entertainment’, as opposed to transportation… and still only when covered head to toe, only in restricted areas and only when accompanied by a man…but baby steps, right?

And now, the first ever anti-domestic violence advert has been released. A close up shot of a burkha-clad woman’s eyes, one of which is sporting a heavy bloodied bruise and the tagline “Some things can’t be covered.”

saudi arabia

The campaign encourages women to report their attackers in instances of domestic violence, and is the first of the King Khalid Foundation’s No More Abuse campaign. Saudi Arabia has a truly appalling record in terms of gender inequality – gender apartheid is enforced, women are heavily treated as second class citizens, and that the fact that they can now bikes for funsies is being seen as any kind of feminist victory surely shows how dismal the state of affairs is over there.

Bill Gates recalls once speaking at a conference in Saudi Arabia, to address an entirely segregated audience. About 80% of the audience were men, seated on the left. The 20% of women, all covered from head to toe in burkhas were on the right, separated by a partition. When the question was raised of how Saudi Arabia could come to be in the top 10 of countries leading the way in technology, Gates replied,‘Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10,’ to a reported eruption of cheers from the women’s side.

I find it difficult to be overwhelmed with enthusiasm by any of these so-called victories in a country where the women are literal possessions of the men – ruled by a guardian system law which is in essence a slavery law. Saudi Women’s Rights Activist, Wajeha Al-Huweidar notes that “That law made men masters and women their servants. Men control all aspects of women’s lives from the day they’re born until the day they die.”

However, any movement against domestic violence has to be applauded, especially in a country where it is so widespread – as the foundation who made the image stated on their website

“The phenomenon of battered women in Saudi Arabia is much greater than is apparent on the surface. It is a phenomenon found in the dark. We want to achieve justice for all women and children exposed to abuse in all parts of the Kingdom.”

It’s a start.

2 thoughts on “Is a feminist revolution coming to Saudi Arabia? Probably not.

  1. Let us not forget our foremothers’ struggles. The U.S. once was very similar to Saudi Arabia, where women could not own property, could not vote and could not pursue a career. Their lives were very much under the control of their fathers and husbands, often under threat of physical violence if they refused to obey. Women were burned at the stake just for the absurd suspicion of not following religious doctrine. Women were went to mental institutions, then ill-equipped and unhealthy places, for symptoms that could have been treated by science and proper medicine (in many cases the women really had nothing wrong with them anyway).

    The reason that U.S. women feel liberated today is the result of a continuous fight over hundreds of years, not a sudden victory by any stretch of the imagination (indeed, even in the U.S. there is still a LONG LONG way to go). I feel that we should celebrate every victory for women’s liberation around the world at all times, no matter how small. Actually, I think that the Muslim world is showing a STRONGER sense of feminism than perhaps ever before, and definitely stronger than in the West, where many women seem to have given up on feminism or even regard it with disdain. At best, women here may blog about feminism or lead nonprofit organizations committed to women’s rights and social justice, but most would not dare fly in the face of danger to protest the injustice of patriarchy here the way that Arab and Muslim women are doing today.

    I stand with my Arab sisters :)

  2. Pingback: [round-up] Monday feminist round-up (13th May 2013) | feimineach.com

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