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The Economist - February 3, 2008 Are matters improving slightly? Must try a lot harder. That is the message of a UN report on the elimination of discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia, published on Friday February 1st. The authors spent three weeks reviewing restrictions on women’s life in the kingdom, and in seven other countries in the region. Although the picture remains bleak in many places, there is some evidence that the position of Saudi women is getting a little better, just as it is for women in most Arab countries. The UN found plenty to condemn in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has its own understanding of sex equality as women having “similar” (meaning fewer) rights rather than equal rights with men. The practice of male guardianship continues, whereby male relatives are able to decide on many aspects of women’s daily life, from whether they may travel to deciding on whether marriage is permitted. Although tentative steps have been taken towards democracy, with municipal elections implemented, women are unable to vote or to stand for office. The legal situation is particularly grim: laws do not exist, for example, specifically forbidding violence against women. Last year a Saudi court sentenced the victim of a gang rape, who had violated laws on segregation of the sexes, to six months in prison and 200 lashes—King Abdullah eventually pardoned her after tumultuous international criticism. But there are signs that things may be getting a little better for the kingdom’s women. Laws forbidding violence against women are now being drafted. Women are now allowed to stay in hotels unaccompanied. The government has given initial approval for the establishment of the first Saudi women’s rights body. And the first women’s football match was played in the eastern province earlier this month, with men excluded from the stadium entirely. There are even suggestions that an infamous ban on women drivers may be lifted later this year. Such improvements are slight, but welcome. And they reflect marginal improvements elsewhere in the Middle East. In education, especially, women are taking large strides. Over half of Saudi Arabia’s university students are female. In Kuwait and Qatar the share is even higher. Although Arab girls still only receive on average three-quarters of the schooling that boys get, female education is improving fast in Arab countries. Women are now allowed to vote, at least in some sort of poll, in all Arab countries except Saudi Arabia. Quotas for female representatives in parliament have helped to lift their numbers throughout the region. And although still rare, there are a few women in significant ministerial positions in some countries, such as Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi, the economy minister in the United Arab Emirates. What explains these improvements? Pressure from Western governments and from institutions such as the UN probably helps. Local and international women’s groups are also pushing governments to respond, taking advantage of the fact that some rulers are eager to project a more progressive image to the West. The presence of powerful businesswomen—still a rare breed—in some of these groups helps get them heard. Businesswomen are often from privileged backgrounds and rise through family businesses. But their emergence reflects a broader trend of growing participation by women in the formal economy over the past 15 years. It is clear why that makes sense. At a conference in Dubai, in December, on the role of Arab women in the economy, a representative from PepsiCo pointed out that developing the role of women “is not just a moral position, it is a smart business proposition.” In a region desperately short of well-educated native talent, tapping the other half of the local population is evidently a smart thing to do.

Altri articoli su:
[ Arabia Saudita ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ] [ Emirati Arabi Uniti ] [ Islam e democrazia ] [ Kuwait ] [ Medio Oriente ] [ ONU ] [ Qatar ]

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[ Arabia Saudita ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ] [ Emirati Arabi Uniti ] [ Islam e democrazia ] [ Kuwait ] [ Medio Oriente ] [ ONU ] [ Qatar ]

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[ Arabia Saudita ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ] [ Emirati Arabi Uniti ] [ Islam e democrazia ] [ Kuwait ] [ Medio Oriente ] [ ONU ] [ Qatar ]

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