News

    Saudi Women Slowly Advance Cultural Change

    Henry Ridgwell

    In recent months there have been eye-catching campaigns by women's groups in Saudi Arabia over issues such as the right to drive.  And there have now been some minor changes in the women's employment picture.  But that does not necessarily indicate the first stirrings of a Saudi "Arab Spring."

    This year something new has appeared on the streets of Saudi cities, female shop assistants.

    For now, they're only found in lingerie stores.  King Abdullah signed a decree to change the law after years of protest by Saudi women, over awkward encounters with male salesmen.

    "The decision makes it more comfortable for women to have privacy, and women can speak to the saleswoman and explain their needs better. At the same time the female staff connect with women clients better than men. It avoids embarrassment," a lingerie shop assistant noted.

    It may seem like a big step, but the vast majority of Saudi women are still forbidden from working. The strict guardian system requires all women to seek the permission of a close male relative to travel, to work, even to have some types of surgery.

    Professor Madawi al-Rasheed, of Kings College London, says the place of women in Saudi society is rooted in the strictly religious nature of the state.

    "Religious nationalism tries to create the kingdom of God on earth," said al-Rasheed.  "And by doing that they use women because they are the visible sign of this nationalism, for two reasons: women are responsible for reproducing the nation physically and also reproducing it socially and culturally."

    On the surface, those cultural norms appear to be shifting.  In recent months increasing numbers of women in cities like Riyadh are defying decades of tradition by getting behind the wheel.  So far, authorities have reacted cautiously.  Police generally turn a blind eye unless the act is being filmed.

    So are these the first rumblings of a revolution in women's rights?

    "Absolutely not," noted al-Rasheed.  "What we have seen is minor protests that are co-opted by the state such as the lingerie incident or the driving incident.  They are used in order to show that 'we have mobilization,' in order to show how reformist it is against the background of a conservative tribal society.  So these kind of minor gains that women have unfortunately are being used for purposes beyond women."

    In September of last year, King Abdullah signed a decree allowing women to run and vote in municipal elections. Al-Rasheed says the reforms are an attempted distraction by the government at a time when other parts of the Arab world are witnessing uprisings.

    "What we are seeing at this stage is minor protest and separate battles raging in Saudi Arabia," added al-Rasheed.

    While some of those battles are being won by women, analysts say the lack of civil society in Saudi Arabia means these are not the first stirrings of a revolution.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora