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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora