Some 70 years ago, King Abdul Aziz united this country and laid the foundations for the tremendous changes that came in the following decades. In an amazingly short time, we changed from an essentially nomadic tribal society, plagued with poverty, illiteracy and superstition into a modern country far beyond the imaginations of King Abdul Aziz and the Saudis of that day.
Unfortunately, however, the enormous strides we took were not on all levels. The status of women in Saudi Arabia is still one that is in the Dark Ages. On our recent National Day, like any good patriot, I reminded my sons of the historical significance of the day. I told them how lucky they were to be born at a time when things have changed for the better. But, I confess, within me there was a deep sadness for all that still needs to change.
Silently I kept asking myself, if I am a Saudi national, why am I treated as a second-class citizen? Why can’t I get an ID card, without anyone’s permission, proving that I am a national? Why do I need a male mediator between me and my government?
Am I not Saudi?
Why don’t I have an independent judicial entity to represent myself in court or anywhere else for that matter? Why can’t I take part in the politics of my country? Why can’t I vote or nominate myself for a political position?
Am I not Saudi?
Why can’t I travel, even if I have a mahram, without permission from a legal guardian? Why can’t I lease a house or even rent a hotel room in my own country? Why can’t I study, work, or even have surgery without male permission? Am I not just as Saudi as the males who give me permission? The list is endless...
When King Faisal opened the doors to female education in the 1950s, it was not an easy thing to do. He faced vicious opposition from people who saw female education as a threat to their beliefs and morals. King Faisal, however, was armed with the knowledge that he was doing right and he stood firm. Today, we all see the wisdom of his decision and his stance. Educated Saudi women are contributing to society in a way our grandmothers never could. From raising an educated generation at home to taking part in whatever society allows them to do, Saudi women have shown extraordinary capabilities and patriotism. Women graduate at a younger age than men and often take jobs that involve commuting hundreds of kilometers and doing double the normal work for half the normal pay. Saudi women who have had opportunities abroad have shown that they can be good pilots, lawyers and even UN representatives. We have great potential; we are a virtually untapped national resource.