Friday, 13 February 2015

Saudi Paper Claims Women's Rights 'Reform' under Dead King

The Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that is identified with the ruling monarchy is presenting the newly appointed King Salman, who was enthroned after King Abdullah died last week, as being a successor in Abdullah's line of "gradual reform."
The paper claimed Abdullah's reforms aimed to implement Islamic Sharia law while supposedly advancing the position of women - despite Saudi Arabia having one of the worst records in the Middle East in terms of women's rights.
Under Abdullah, citizens were allowed for the first time to take part in elections for local councils, of which half of the members are elected by the public. The coming local elections will include female candidates for the first time.
In 2011 Abdullah decided to integrate women into the advisory council's (the Shura) 150 members, and two years later 30 women were appointed to it for the first time in Saudi history. The Saudi paper said the female representation of 20% is similar to that of parliamentary representation of women in democracies, such as the US.
The paper also said Abdullah allowed 50,000 Saudi women to study at universities abroad, appointed a female Saudi university director, and allowed women to take jobs in the private sector to allow them to independently support themselves.
Despite the paper's patting itself on the back, many have pointed out that Saudi Arabia has seriously fallen down in terms of women's rights.
Perhaps the most notorious sign of the discrimination is how Saudi religious police enforcing Sharia law continue a longstanding ban on women drivers.
Activists have launched a campaign against the ban and have encouraged women to post pictures of themselves driving on Twitter under the hashtag #IWillDriveMyself, as well as on Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, leading many to be arrested.
Another embarrassing moment came last March when Saudi princesses revealed in an interview the day US President Barack Obama spoke to King Abdullah, that they were being held as "hostages" and being starved in a royal compound, after going public with their story of abuse the month before.
Other problematic signs for the claim of Saudi democracy par excellence is a recent restaurant ban on single women.
In fact, a study in November 2013 found Saudi Arabia has the third worst women's rights in the Arab world. Last February several education departments banned female employees and visitors not wearing a face veil from entering girls’ schools. 
Nevertheless Saudi Arabia two years ago won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, along with other countries with questionable human rights records, including China, Russia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam.


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