Activists Seek Establishment of Women’s Rights Body

A group of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia said they have applied to the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) for permission to establish an independent civil society organization under the name “Ansar al-Mar’a” (Supporters of Women), reports today. The group consists of 21 members, most of them are women.

The first time I heard about this group was few months ago when one of their members, Sulaiman al-Salman, appeared on Haifaa al-Mansour’s talk show on LBC to discuss women’s driving. Al-Salman said the aim of the group is to demand women’s rights such as driving cars and the right to uncover their faces and have more flexible work options. I have tried to acquire more information about them, but so far such information remain scarce.

I don’t think they will get the permission they are seeking. It’s a really long shot. The law that is supposed to regulate civil society organizations is still under discussion in Shoura Council and awaits to be voted after the Shoura members return from their summer vacation. As far as I know, the only type of permission MOSA give to establish an NGO in the present time is restricted to charities and philanthropic bodies.

The article quotes some other members of the group whom I’ve never heard of before, but I think these people are/should be fully aware of what I said here. It is unclear to me why they apply in the first place if they know their application would be rejected, at least until the new law is implemented. Such application seems like a move to create buzz around the group more than a serious attempt to establish something sustainable.

nujaimiHowever, it takes only a little spark like this to provoke the likes of Sahwa unofficial spokesman Mohammed al-Nujaimi, who would never miss a chance to be in the media, to release his loose cannons. Nujaimi has been leading a fierce crusade against all things liberal in Saudi Arabia, and this was a good opportunity for him to continue his efforts.

“I’m not against that liberals would start an organization to support women,” he said. “I’m against some of their ideas, especially that all people in this group are liberals.” This doesn’t make sense, but that’s OK because being the demagogue that he is, he’s never been known to make much sense. “We support women from an Islamic perspective,” he added.

Moreover, Nujaimi seems pretty sure that his views regarding women’s issues would prevail in the end. He said that a controversial issue like face covering can only be decided through some kind of a ‘domestic’ fatwa, and since the religious establishment here say a women must cover her face then there should be no argument about that (!). “In any case, women will cover their faces in government offices,” he concluded.

Sometimes I wonder if Nujaimi actually listens to himself when he comes up with stuff like these. He sounds as if he is trying to make things seem logical, but the problem is that his logic is so twisted. Since when one has to adhere to the instructions of some official authority to make up his beliefs and becomes a devoted Muslim? All I know is that the Islam Mohammed al-Nujaimi and his likes talk about is not the Islam I know.

I started talking about women’s rights and ended up talking about Islam. How did that happen? That’s normal: the conservatives here like to squeeze religion into everything, whether they were trying to object to some inevitable change or simply to make a point, but truth is, they have not been making many good of these lately.

9 thoughts on “Activists Seek Establishment of Women’s Rights Body

  1. I sympathise with saudi women on all these issues. But there are areas in which they have to do something themselves. I read about the fire that engulfed a school in which several girl-students died. It turned out that the prospect of walking out without a veil stopped the girls from escaping the fire.
    is it not time they started a little public unveiling occasionally or driving cars in alleys or posting their pictures on their blogs? Just so as to start getting used to these things. Its a struggle and sacrifices can not be out of place.

  2. Salam, I didn´t undertand your point of View, I mean if u agree with the Woman rights or not, if u think that woman should not cover their faces or not, drive or not… I say that, because to me its important particular opinions. In all cases, u should know that it´s very important that people try change the rulers. You can say that they can´t do nothing, that their efforts don´t get results, but all changes happens because someone start, so after other, and other.. until the subject got strong. Its natural that ONE day things in KSA change… the reason for this is MONEY, politics… but if groups like “Ansar al-Mar’a” try to do something maybe it get more fast… I think if not will take long time until really changes happened and I think its beacause most woman in our contries don´t want change nothing they feel confort behind abayas and without need of work, they can spend much money in shoppings, they don´t need driving.. here in brasil if a woamn want buy something she need work hard, but what will make KSA woman changes? maybe when she discoved the world of freedom, In this world they can use abaya if she want, but she will undertand how much its better take your decisions. In my case, u want know what I think? that in KSA the problem is not use or not use abaya, work or not work, drive or not drive, the problem what is behind this, for exemplo many mans that don´t respect the Woman, they hit them in their houses, in streets, they Kill than, It´s a real problem to be solved.

  3. >> It turned out that the prospect of walking out without a veil stopped the girls from escaping the fire. <<

    I’d like to see a source for that.

    PS – Could somebody please direct me to the passage in the Quran that says women must wear masks?


  4. Anon, No one has the answer because such a verse does not exist. This is a tradition, not a religious requirement. Unfortunately, it’s supporters want to enforce it on others without a debate. Most Saudi women i know do not want to cover their faces. Of course that is a small sample and tend to include mostly liberal minded people. However, it is still a choice that should be respected.

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