Saudi WomenTowards A New Era english islamic book pdf
Towards A New Era
First Edition, 2007
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In the Name of God,
Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Section 1: Women and Society
A Muslim Identity in Tune with the World
Women Hold the Key to Prosperity or Failure
Section I1: Women and Media
An Opportunity to Empower Women or an Obligation?
Changing the Hostile Mindset towards Women
Women Journalists Share Experiences Around Med
Internet Opens New Paths for Journalism
Section II1: Women and Business
Saudi Women Taking Board Positions
Saudi and Italian Businesswomen: A Partnership for Peace and
Section IV: Women and Politics
Challenges Facing Saudi Women
If Only They Were Given a Chance
A Seminar on Political Systems and Democratic Governance
Section V: Women and Diplomacy
Diplomacy Benefits from Woman’s Touch
Arab Women Can Power Peace and Progress
A Visit to Rural America
I write this book as a Saudi woman with a Muslim
identity and a citizen of the world. I represent women with
a mission to promote the empowerment of the Saudi female
and advocate the global Muslim woman in tune with the
world. Our aspirations are many, and the challenges that we
face are more.
We have achieved a lot despite the frustrations over the
reluctance to change and modernize by a large portion of our
society. Consequently, the obstacles that stand in our way are
detrimental to the progress of our country. However, there
are enough educated and professional women who continue
to fight against discrimination and welcome international
initiatives available to help women develop their potentials
and prosper within the global village.
There are many educated women of this country who
are determined to promote and project a progressive image
to the world rather than the oppressed or repressed one that
has dominated the international media for sometime.
This book outlines Government efforts and the rise of
civil society to change negative attitudes towards women.
It is a reflection of the emerging role of Saudi women who
have been marginalized by rigid traditions and restricted by
misinterpretations of Islamic laws.
Samar Fatany probably is best known as a Jeddah
broadcaster, but she has also garnered distinction as a member
of many Saudi delegations to international conferences of
political leaders, journalists and businesswomen.
The text of this book comes from a series of commentaries
first published in Arab News, one of the Kingdom’s leading
English daily newspapers, which examines a variety of
issues relating to the emerging role of women in Saudi
There is considerable overlap in these commentaries,
but they have been divided in five sections, namely society,
media, business, politics and diplomacy. Although they
have been so divided, the messages overlap because the
changing role of Saudi women illustrates that these areas
often are intertwined, and a societal decision often has
consequences in the workplace or the home, at the ballot
box or in the arena of world opinion.
There is a growing realization in Saudi Arabia of the need
for change. What Ms. Fatany does in her commentaries is
to look for what is truly important in the Kingdom’s drive
to be an economic winner in a world that globalization is
making smaller and to be a faith-based nation where the
tenets of Islam are properly preserved while also allowing
There has been much misinformation about the people
of Saudi Arabia in Western media; some may be due to
Islamophobia, but some comes from the difficulty in getting
an accurate picture of the Kingdom’s diversity from the
outside. Therefore, Westerners may find new insights on
these pages about Saudi Arabia’s growing drive for progress
and how that drive requires the people of the Kingdom to
find the appropriate balance between contrasting concerns.
I don’t use the words conflicting concerns because Ms.
Fatany sees no conflict between the true tenets of Islam
and modernity. In fact, she believes they complement one
As with any compilation, it is hoped that readers will find
new understanding — from beyond the Kingdom’s borders,
an understanding of the complexities of Saudi society; and
within the Kingdom, a better understanding of the issues
that must be resolved in the National Dialogue in which
every Saudi citizen is expected to take part.
Women and Society
A Muslim Identity in Tune With the World
In a meeting with newspaper editors, Custodian of the
Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah criticized the local press
for publication of pictures of women who are inappropriately
dressed or who appear in provocative attire.
“One needs to think if he would want his daughter, sister
or wife to appear like that,” the King said.
Unfortunately, Western media reports misquoted King
Abdullah’s comments as a call to ban all pictures of women
in Saudi media. This was far from the truth.
Photographs of respectable Saudi women continue to
appear daily in the local press. However, the king’s sentiments
are shared by many Saudi families who feel that images of
scantily-clad women don’t set a good example for our youth
and should neither be encouraged nor accepted by our media.
As a concerned mother, I appreciate the King’s advice,
and I hope the media will continue to respect our Islamic
teachings and refrain from publishing indecent pictures of
women in our newspapers.
I also read with great interest the news of an Iranian
initiative to promote Islamic fashion. I agree with the view
of one of the Iranian women members of Parliament that
“young people’s clothing in the Muslim world does not
reflect their Islamic identity, which is really not their fault,
since modest modern fashions for women are not available
and are not offered by our own designers or popular Western
fashion houses today.”
I am also of the opinion that we need to encourage our
designers to create fashions that are decent and affordable for
our young women to maintain their Muslim code of dress.
We need to promote fashions inspired by traditional
patterns and encourage people to avoid incompatible foreign
fashions. The aim is to offer clothes that reflect modesty,
beauty and diversity and at the same time display cultural
We need to study how to project the image of the Saudi
women to the world, but what will be her new look?
The image of a faceless woman shrouded in black does
not represent the true discipline of a Muslim woman. It is
an image that has been distorted by misinterpretations of
Islam and has made the world less respectful of our faithful
women. It has portrayed Islam as being suppressive and
a religion that deprives women of their basic rights to be
respected and admired.
In the West, it has also projected an image leading
to backlash against Muslims entrants to society. In the
Netherlands, such concerns prompted one young Dutch
designer to come up with some headgear for Muslim
women that would maintain modesty while allowing them
to participate in school activities from which they otherwise
would have been excluded.
We need to come up with a new image for the Muslim,
Arab or Saudi woman who is proud of her heritage and
culture. The hijab is our Muslim identity — let us wear it
with elegance and pride. At the same time, as our country
is forced to change to compete globally, let’s remember
that fashions may have to change somewhat to enable both
women and men to be effective workers in a variety of
situations — not in the name of promoting Western garb,
but in promoting economic success for our nation.
Saudi fashion designers need to help create smart, elegant
and modest modern fashions for the Saudi woman.
An opportunity to study professional fashion design
could be the means to achieve this goal. The opening of
a Paris-based Ecole de Mode International (ESMOD) in
collaboration with the Fashion Design Institute in Riyadh
could provide young Saudi women the opportunity to
create their own designs that are suitable to Saudi culture
and Muslim identity.
Students will pursue a three-year course that includes
drafting, computer-aided design, marketing, live drawing,
fashion, culture, communication and textiles.
Moreover, this much-needed career could also provide
young graduates work with retailers and as tailors,
merchandising assistants as well as fashion designers.
ESMOD has institutes offering master’s programs in
fashion design and business administration in France,
Germany, Norway, China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia,
Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia and Brazil; now they are most
welcome in Saudi Arabia.
The nature of the modern professional character of
the Saudi woman should also be considered and studied
carefully. If we are to project women in political and
leadership positions they should be educated on government
policies and made aware of the accepted social conduct
and the Muslim perspective in the new emerging political
scene among nations. In order to do that, however, we
need to develop a Muslim perspective that truly reflects the
teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and leaves
behind any cultural add-ons that spawn intolerance, hatred
or the unnecessary restrictions on women.
With such a consensus, we could start creating a new
image for Saudi women so they could assert themselves
and their Muslim identities in the world.
The projection of Saudi women today is haphazard and
has not been carefully studied. We first need to formulate
a framework that can help the Saudi woman achieve
acceptance within her society before we can send her out
for international approval in the global village. Women
constitute a great, underutilized asset for our economic
development, and we need to ensure that we use this
incredible resource as wisely as we use our oil or mineral
resources, which are administered with the greatest of
Critical to our future success is exercising the care
required to avoid failures or backlashes that could push
back a clock that we cannot afford even to stand still. If we
are going to project Arab and Islamic issues on the world
stage, we had better be operating with a wide consensus
domestically if we wish to have any hopes of success.
Saudi men and women, religious leaders and government
officials all need to consider these issues carefully,
remembering that is it not the West dictating to us but the
world that is challenging us to either take our place near the
front of the line with other nations that adapt and progress
or at the back of the line with the nations that can’t.
The untapped potential of Saudi women can propel us
ahead — but only if we let it. Wise deliberations that do not
result in resolution will neither be very wise nor very helpful
to our shared economic future. Therefore, it is imperative
that we arrive at a resolution and put a plan into action to
help Saudi women overcome their challenges and succeed
— both for their nation and for Islam.
Women Hold the Key to Prosperity or Failure
In many ways, women in Saudi Arabia can be their
own worst enemies when it comes to issues regarding their
changing role in society. A look at the economic statistics
and the important role that women have to play for this
society to progress makes many of the challenges obvious,
but the obedience many women pay to the status quo and
long-standing cultural traditions exact a price on the pace of
progress in Saudi Arabia and the acceptance of a new reality
that we can embrace — and watch our children flourish — or
reject — and watch both our society and standard of living
crumble. Ironically, in the worst-case scenario for the future,
we would struggle even to feed or clothe our children, let
alone defend our culture or traditions.
It is a harsh appraisal and one that I might not have seen
fit to voice had I not been asked to present a paper on the
topic at the first-ever Forum for Women in Media held in
April 2006 in Riyadh.
At the end of my lecture, there were many who criticized
my comments, but at the same time there were many others
who shared my views and appreciated my efforts to raise a
critical issue that remains one of the greatest obstacles in
the way of women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia.
Allow me to share with you some of the points that I
raised to those ends.
Discord exists between women of differing viewpoints
all over the world. In Saudi Arabia, perhaps because of the
extreme levels of conservatism held by some women, the
discord seems to be more prevalent.
It is unfortunate to note, but women often oppose their
Saudi sisters who call for change and development. For
Saudi policy-makers and government officials this creates
a major problem. An example of this would be the move to
issue separate identity cards to women, which was met with
rejection and obstruction of work at government offices and
banks as a form of protest. Because of the importance of
this change for the march of progress in the Kingdom, the
government had to impose the change upon them.
Women’s reluctance to embrace the change and
opportunities extended to them also is demonstrated by the
refusal of women to vote for women candidates running in
chamber elections in the Eastern Province, which resulted in
failure. Even in Jeddah, it was the men’s vote that put women
on the board — not the limited support of their sisters.
Across the range of reforms sought to empower women
and to give Saudi Arabia a much-needed competitive edge
in the global marketplace, from schools and workplaces to
hospitals and highways, women often are the ones raising
the roadblocks to change.
Some women object to the participation of students in
dramatic and literary activities at schools for girls. Without
demands by schoolteachers for change, public schoolgirls
continue to be deprived of all literary activities.
Despite psychological, hygienic and security concerns
about the niqab (veil) raised by doctors and hospital officials, it
is women who exert pressure to keep in place this trend. Some
female doctors and nurses refuse to heed to these concerns thus
compromising their level of efficiency and professionalism
and subjecting patients to needless discomfort.
There is a large number of women who oppose women
driving in Saudi Arabia. This stand has caused countless
problems both for working and nonworking women. As a
result, the ban on driving still holds, even though there is
nothing in religion that justifies the ban and literally millions
of Saudi riyals get taken out of the economy because of the
nation’s imagined need for drivers, most of them expatriate
workers. Women also are to blame for the absence of
physical education in schools. Women hard-liners pay no
heed to the alarming increase in obesity and diabetes among
young Saudi girls that researchers report and that threatens
the health of generations to come.
Many women call for the strict enforcement of our
strong segregation laws. This culture of isolation applied to
women within the family creates social and psychological
problems, not the least of which is the fact that depression
runs rampant for young boys and girls unable to share the
joy of social life with all members of the family.
Extremist religious practices and resistance to modernization by
Saudi women have earned the disdain of many women worldwide
— especially from women in Arab and Muslim countries.
Many Muslim women in other countries lament the
ignorance of Saudi women, both in terms of Arab and
Islamic issues, which compromises the ability of women
throughout the Arab world to move forward and do the best
for their families and themselves. Instead of being a source
of strength to the Muslim world, the position of Saudi
women has compromised what should be Saudi Arabia’s
leading role in the international arena. During the lecture,
I made 10 recommendations to remove the obstacles to
empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia.
- Project the correct Islamic teachings on the role of
women in order to dispel the hodgepodge of antiquated
tribal customs and traditions that get improperly mixed
in with the words of God. The world is populated by
men and women who are partners in everything from
raising a good family and ensuring a bright future for
their children to building an economically and politically
- Invite enlightened Islamic scholars to help guide the
public back to Islam’s declared position on women in the
light of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, emphasizing the
need to protect the Islamic identity of Saudi women while
rejecting excesses and deviations.
- Encourage civil institutions to fight discrimination
against women and the tragic problem of domestic violence.
- Highlight successful Saudi women who have proven
their excellence in education, social service, business, media,
health and other sectors in order to encourage women to
take a more active role in shaping the nation.
- Take up women’s issues and present a true picture
of their problems and suffering to officials so that they get
a real picture of the challenges, which will help decisionmakers set the right course.
- Raise the levels of education and awareness among
women. Women make up half of our society, and they
should be empowered to play effective roles in the nation’s
development and share in the decision-making process.
- Increase the international role of Saudi women to bring
nations closer and promote world peace while encouraging
their participation in global conferences and organizations.
- Allow Saudi women to help correct the widespread
misconceptions about Muslim women.
- Allow Saudi women to promote Arab solidarity by
fostering friendly relations and cooperation between the
people of the Arab countries.
- Saudi media has to work to promote the true, moderate
Islamic culture and report on current Islamic trends that honor
women and respect their rights. In order to uplift Islamic
civilization, we need to find a way to embrace the advancements
of modernity rather than rejecting them out of hand.
We need to find a way to end our hatred of change
and differences. The media can play an important role in
making the case for change, and Saudi women need to play
an ever-increasing role in that media. While other societies
are forging ahead, we continue to discuss whether progress
is a good idea, and each day we fall a little farther behind
The Forum for Women in Media provided the opportunity
for media professionals to discuss the way forward. Media
should not be underestimated. Women in media should be
both trained and encouraged to mobilize the national base
It is important because women have to play an equal role in
the decision-making process that will transform our society into
a model for other peoples around the world. If we don’t make a
strong case for change, our society is likely to languish.
Shaping the domestic debate toward positive attitudes and
global thinking is a cornerstone of the transformation. It is
time for Saudi women – all Saudi women – to realize that they
already are making important contributions to the national
debate. Whether those contributions will be positive, and
speed up the pace of reform, or negative, and send our society
and our children closer to a future of poverty, is something
all Saudi women need to understand. The global village
iswatching; whether it will wait for us is another question.
Women and Media
An Opportunity to Empower Women or an
At a time when there is encouragement to discuss a
changing role for women in Saudi society, the nation’s
media is in a unique position to advance those discussions
by serving to illuminate our people on the challenges we
face in keeping pace with the rest of the world. Some editors
and broadcasters may view it as an opportunity, but perhaps
it should be viewed as an obligation if we truly want to
move the Kingdom forward.
Many challenges stand in the way of the empowerment of
women in Saudi Arabia, and our media ought to adopt a strategy
to raise the level of awareness and develop the potential of
women so that they can better serve their country.
Already there are many women playing important roles
in Saudi media, but all Saudi journalists — men and women
— need to address these many challenges confronting
women. Anyone with a realistic grasp of economics knows
that we truly do not have the luxury of time if we want
to see a bright and prosperous future for our children;
therefore, the challenges facing women today need the
media’s immediate attention.
What follow are my recommendations to break the
logjam of misconceptions and cultural bugaboos that may
constitute a greater and more imminent threat to our nation’s
well-being than any real or imagined foreign enemy.
We need to stress the important role of women in the
development and progress of this country and project the
national responsibility of allowing women to work in all
appropriate economic sectors.
We need to educate men — husbands, fathers, brothers,
uncles and others — on the role of working women and the
significant contributions of which they are capable because
of their education so that all understand the role these Saudi
women — wives, mothers, sisters, aunts and others — can
play in bringing up a new generation capable of facing
modern challenges through rational examination and of
improving our standard of living.
We need to educate both men and women about women’s
legal rights and increase their awareness about the services
of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, such
as the Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Society
for Human Rights, both of which offer protection for the
victims of domestic violence and abuse.
Of great importance is the need to expose imposed nonreligious values, trends and traditions that perpetuate family
violence and deny women the rights Islam guarantees them.
It is shameful that family violence is not considered a crime
in our country as long as it does not lead to murder.
Media also must encourage respect for dialogue and
views of others: Despite the formation of the National
Dialogue Center and the encouragement it received from
top officials, our society is quick to dismiss opposing
views, especially when there are those among us resistant
to any change who will block new ideas and brand those
who present them as secularists. In such circumstances, the
media and the Internet can become weapons of defamation,
preserving a status quo unwilling to admit that the ways of
the past do not lead us to a future for which our children
will thank us.
The media should emphasize that women are capable
of determining their future and that they should share in
the decision-making process. We see the negative effects
of men being the sole decision-makers on matters related
to women. Women account for half of our population, and
their ideas and suggestions should command the respect of
all, just as men’s.
The media needs to expose the outrages perpetuated
against women and their children, and the media should
serve as a platform calling for new laws to protect women
and appropriate mechanisms that support divorced or
abandoned mothers and their children. As long these issues
are not addressed, the conditions for these struggling
families will deteriorate, and some men will treat social and
legal inaction as a license for irresponsibility without any
fear of reprisal.
Much research is conducted about the Kingdom and its
people by sociological, economic and Islamic experts, The
media should feature these scientific and theological insights,
which can provide people with necessary information to
frame their own, reasoned opinions about the challenges
The media also can give the public the benefits received
through examining the experiences of other nations and
their leaders in dealing with many of the same challenges
that our nation faces. The Jeddah Economic Forum has set
an example in this respect by inviting world famous women
leaders, such as Irish President Mary McAleese, Queen
Rania of Jordan, Dr. Thuraya Obaid of the United Nations
and others to its annual forums.
We are now living in a world without borders — a
global village. To coexist peacefully nations must work
with other parties to identify their roles in this international
With a burgeoning, young population, our nation must
identify its role in this international community if it is to
create a future of economic growth and development with a
rising standard of living rather than a declining one. In every
country in today’s world that is finding success, women are
playing an important role.
That is not a matter of conjecture; it is a matter of fact,
and the fact is that we need to overcome these obstacles
I would hope that simply because we are Muslims
we would see the need to empower women in the name
of Islamic justice, but even if our thoughts were only to
revolve around money and investments we would come to
the same conclusion that women need to be empowered if
we wish to flourish in this world.
As to whether it is an obligation or simply an opportunity
for Saudi media to help move the empowerment of women
forward may be a matter for discussion. In my view,
however, the leaders of our Kingdom in their wisdom have
initiated a national dialogue and also encouraged the media
to play a role in that effort, which creates a responsibility
— both for the people and the media — to help create a
shared, national vision for the future.
It’s a responsibility that should not be taken lightly, and
it is a responsibility that cannot be ignored.
Changing the Hostile Mindset towards Women
The United Nations Development Program came under
some attack for organizing a three-day forum on 17-
19 December, 2005, entitled “Women and Millennium
Development Goals” in Riyadh. Princess Adila bint
Abdullah opened the forum, which included 150 Saudi
women educators, social workers, medical experts,
economists and media representatives. The meeting was an
excellent opportunity for women to discuss their concerns
and to highlight their future roles in building our nation.
There were those, however, who were very negative with
criticisms leveled against participants for representing
only the privileged liberal group as opposed to the normal,
moderate professional women.
This is a very narrow-minded approach to a meeting
that should be of benefit to all women everywhere in the
Kingdom. The organizers also were targeted for allegedly
attempting to erode our Islamic values and corrupting
women by advocating the goals set out in the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW). The fact that Saudi Arabia was among
the 100 countries that signed this international document
in September 2000 made no difference to those who
orchestrated the campaign against the conference.
According to newspaper reports and some Internet sites,
the reason behind the resentment was the publication of four
articles in particular that appeared in the official CEDAW
document and which are counter to our religious beliefs. At
the same time, it is well-known that Saudi Arabia and other
Muslim countries announced their reservations earlier and
made it clear that they would not make changes in line with
the four articles.
In addition, Dr. Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen, a member
of the National Society for Human Rights, who attended
the forum, also reiterated Saudi Arabia’s reservations at
the beginning of the UNDP forum. She also called upon
the UN to advocate the protection of human rights of
Palestinian women and Iraqi children. Her presence and her
actions were a civilized way of making a statement, which
was much appreciated by all the participants. She did not
omit thanking the organizers for their initiative, and she
participated in the workshops allowing women to voice their
concerns and make recommendations about contributing to
the nation’s development.
It is unfortunate the critics failed to see the UNDP
initiative in the proper perspective. This was a well-organized
meeting that addressed the empowerment of Saudi women.
It also was an attempt to formulate recommendations for
policy-makers in order to support the role of women and
remove the obstacles that stand in their way.
Hanan Al-Ahmadi, an associate professor at the Institute
of Public Administration, gave a presentation concerning
women and leadership. She described the negative effects
on society when men make decisions on behalf of women
– half the population. She called for more power to be
granted to women in order to give them the right to decide
matters that concern them. The problem, she said, was that
women don’t have the means to make their voices heard
— especially when they are excluded from the decisionmaking process.
One of the most alarming discussions during the meeting
dealt with 1,500 cases of domestic violence that have been
reported by the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR).
The discussions were very frank and offered solutions to
many of the problems that women face today. The discussions
exposed inadequate courts and incompetent judges who fail
to protect women against abuse and discrimination.
NSHR member Jowhara Al-Angary moderated a session
on violence against women, and she told the audience that
there were many cases of abuse crying out for an immediate
change in the laws governing the rights of women. She
stressed the need for a codified judicial system, in order to
protect women from abuse.
It is rather ironic that the so-called guardians of morality
see no reason to be alarmed and fail to use aggressive
language in the media or on the Internet when they hear of
cases of fathers who sexually abuse their daughters and are
then given light sentences or when molested daughters are
forced to go back to live in the very environment that led to
the abuse in the first place.
It would have been more appropriate for those who
oppose initiatives of prominent professional women in
our society to direct their attacks against those who abuse
women and deprive them of their basic human rights,
whether by turning a blind eye to injustices or criminally
abusing helpless women. The opponents overlook such
blatant violations, yet they become very vocal in targeting
UNDP initiatives to address abuse against all women.
The media are responsible for raising the level of
awareness among our citizens. The public should recognize
that any initiative made for the welfare of our society deserves
to be welcomed, regardless of whom is included and who
is not. What we all should aspire to is the protection of the
rights of all citizens in this country, both male and female.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has
given directives for the removal of all obstacles standing
in the way of women, and he has said that discrimination
against women will no longer be tolerated.
The Saudi media have an important role to play in
changing the hostile mindset toward women and shaping
positive public opinion toward new initiatives for progress
and development. There are concerted efforts by responsible
Saudis along with governmental and non-governmental
institutions and organizations to alter the stereotypes of
Saudi women and Saudi society abroad. Unfortunately
those who do not want to correct mistaken images work
against our gaining the respect of other nations by opposing
any improvements and resisting changes for the better.
They want to keep the Kingdom isolated from the rest of
the civilized world and, at the same time, they are ignorant
of the art of dialogue and communication. This is evident
when we see the verbal attacks in the media and the Internet
against any foreign initiative that they deem “un-Islamic.”
There is no denying that there are many concerns and issues
related to our national security and unjust policies imposed
on Arab and Muslim states, but we need to learn to deal
with them in a professional manner if we want to be taken
seriously and influence solutions.
Reformers will not succeed, and our country will not
develop without changing the extremist mindset and negative
attitudes towards opposing views. The media should be an
educational tool that can provide guidance and direction to
our confused youth who too often receive mixed signals
about what is “haraam” (wrong) or what is “halal” (right).
Journalists, columnists, educators and religious leaders
have a responsibility to raise the level of awareness among
citizens who have been brainwashed for so long and pushed
into adopting a rigid and inflexible attitude; part of the
problem is that exaggerated suspicions and condemnation
are exhibited toward anything that is foreign — since, if
it is foreign, it must be wrong. Citizens must also learn to
acknowledge the diversity of different nations and other
cultures so that we can receive our share of respect, as well.
It is essential for the media to educate the public on how
to engage with the international community, politically,
economically, and culturally. Disrespect for international
conventions and disregard for world public opinion will
surely have a negative impact on our global standing, and
hinder the government’s efforts to play a more prominent
role around the globe.
Women Journalists Share
Experiences Around the Mediterranean
Historically, the great ideas of civilizations have traveled
back and forth across the waters of the Mediterranean,
and that tradition continued in May 2005, when women
journalists from the Mediterranean countries met in Beirut
to discuss the way forward.
The conference, “Women, Media and the Mediterranean,”
was held in May and was organized by ANSAMed and
the Arab Italian Women Association (AIWA) in a bid to
strengthen the role of women in the world of information,
to share experience and build a common vision for media
organizations. The event provided an opportunity for
dialogue and an exchange of experience between journalists
from print media, television and radio from several
Mediterranean countries and was attended by many of the
region’s most prominent journalists.
“The media is the voice of the people,” Silvia di Savoia,
Duchess of Aosta and AIWA’s honorary president, told
participants. “We all base our knowledge of others on what
the information we get tells us. In a world where information
has a growing responsibility, women have a major role,
because they are less aggressive and more prone to seek
She outlined the aims of AIWA, which are to promote
cultural and informational exchanges to overcome prejudices
and preconceptions, which became stronger after Sept. 11,
“Mediterranean women have a unique opportunity
to find a peaceful solution to many problems of cultural,
religious and political nature that are often resolved with
violence,” said Roberto Cantore, the Italian business attaché
Although many of the participants noted progress
throughout the region, some noted obstacles still remain.
“The journalist’s role in the Mediterranean states has
radically changed in the last few years,” said Barbara Serra,
of Al-Jazeera’s English service. “They have more space
but still remain bound to do the same job. It is difficult for
them to request a role in management in television, radio or
Serra stressed that women’s role in the media is
fundamental because they represent half the population and
can — and must — speak to the people about the people.
If the media is the mirror of the population, she said, it is
right for women to take positions of more responsibility,
which, she noted, is unfortunately not the case in many
From the observations of many of the participants, it
appeared the problem is widespread.
There are very few women journalists in decisionmaking positions, though there are many highly qualified
and capable columnists, presenters, reporters and talk-show
hosts both in political and nonpolitical programs.
Many women journalists have risked their lives to cover
wars and conflicts; some have become targets of terrorists.
Allow me to share with you some of the statistics and
information about the situations of Mediterranean women
in media: In Jordan and Algeria, women have claimed
positions of editor in chief, while in France even more
women are joining the ranks of journalists, taking 43 percent
of all media jobs; however, they still take a disproportionate
number of the top positions. Moreover, women are paid less
compared to man in the same job.
The media in Spain continues to be dominated by men.
According to a recent report, women have 43 percent of
all jobs in the media — 63 percent of them have university
degrees; male university graduates working in Spanish
media account for only 39 percent of the number of men so
employed. When it comes to careers, men hold most of the
management or directorial positions while women mostly
work as editors.
In Egypt, women are underrepresented in the management
of state-owned newspapers but hold high-responsibility jobs
in television. More importantly wages for men and women
are equal. In Morocco, women journalists hold the highest
positions and collaborate very well with men. The estimates
of the Italian Media Federation show that there are many
Italian women working in the media, but they take lower
positions in the hierarchy, including part-time contracts.
The situation is similar in Lebanon, where the women
working in the sector are an integral part of the greater Arab
media world. Lebanese women have played a central role in
local and Arab media over the past decades as columnists,
presenters, reporters and hosts of political and nonpolitical
programs. They paved the way for a new generation of
journalists who are integral part of Arab media.
Among the participants were leading newspaper,
radio and television journalists from Italy, Spain, Turkey,
Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, the United Arab
Emirates, Yemen and Dubai, including Lebanese Gisela
Khovry of TV Arabiya, Turkish columnist Ferai Tinc, Irene
Lozano from Spanish ABC, Egyptian Rola Kharsa, Barbara
Serra from London Al-Jazeera, Italian journalist Giovanna
Botteri and Tiziana Ferrario. We shared our experiences
and exchanged views and ideas about making the voices of
women better heard on both global issues and those related
to women. I was proud to share the achievements of Saudi
women in media, both in projecting the new emerging role
of women in Saudi society and discussing the challenges
they face to become builders of society and promoters of
Among the recommendations of the two-day conference
was the establishment of an information network among
Mediterranean women in media and the creation of a program
to provide training for Mediterranean journalists to give a
stronger voice to women and improve their conditions in
the region. I hope that Saudi women in media will benefit
from these initiatives and work hard to upgrade the level of
professionalism in our nation’s media.
There is an urgent need to create a more responsible media
that can confront the many challenges ahead and serve the
development of our society. We need to develop a media
that is professional in its approach and able to deal with
issues in a specialized and scientific manner. Training and
learning from experience both can contribute to upgrading
the quality of our journalists.
It is important for our media to promote the culture of
dialogue and to encourage citizens to exchange views openly.
There are many concerns that need to be addressed and of
which the community should be made aware. The media
has a responsibility to play a more active role in projecting
our true Islamic values of justice, equality, tolerance and
respect for knowledge.
By learning from the experiences of journalists in other
nations, we should be able to find better ways to do things,
speed up the process of reform and help women take up
their rightful role in our society. The sooner, the better. We
need all the help we can get.
Internet Opens New Paths for Journalism
Emerging technology is creating interactive channels for
mass communication that are redefining media. It is creating
a new breed of citizen journalists who can get news to the
world without using the well-worn pathways of traditional
print and broadcast outlets. It presents great opportunities
for common people to report events independent of large
media organizations, as well as to voice their views in a
new global marketplace of ideas.
These were some of the topics discussed in Dubai during
a session on citizen journalism at an event called the Arab and
World Media Conference: Getting It Right. The conference
was held 5-6 December 2005. At this session, a panel of
four media specialists explored the opportunities that new
technologies offer. They also debated the various risks that
citizen journalism poses to traditional media companies.
Although many of the discussions had a global focus, they also
had special relevance for the Middle East, where representative
governments and more transparent economic and business
environments are creating an increasing demand for information.
Panelists included Alarabiya.net Editor Ammar Bakkar,
Eric Case of Google, Pete Clifton from BBC News
Interactive, and software creator and analyst John Clippinger.
Their audience also included several internationally known
media personalities who weighed in during a spirited
Bakkar, who also teaches mass communication at the
American University in Sharjah, said that more involvement
between everyday people and mainstream media is a matter
of continuing importance despite recent technological
advances. He noted that many people across the Middle
East either lack computer literacy or access to the equipment
required for web-based interaction, putting a greater burden
on traditional media to become more inclusive of constituent
He also spoke about the value of online interaction, which
provides people an opportunity to voice their opinions and
express their concerns over current issues and world events.
The influence of new media technologies such as weblogs
(a.k.a. blogs) and online services allow both professional
and citizen journalists to help shape breaking news and
influence public opinion.
Case, who has managed the blog-service provider
Blogger for Google since 2003, said the weblogs have
created an alternative source for news and a new forum for
political opinions. Many young Americans have become
skeptical of official reports and the existing channels for
reporting, prompting them to instead turn to blogs.
He noted that the US invasion of Iraq helped advance the
alternative channel, with American soldiers and Iraqi citizens
using blogs to report from inside Iraq, writing diaries and
describing the reality on the ground while global mainstream
media became dominated by propaganda and censorship.
Case said a blog on the Internet gives one the opportunity
to voice his or her opinion on the web. It’s a place to share
things that you find interesting — whether it’s a political
commentary, a personal diary, or links to websites you want
Citizen journalism has reached new levels. The BBC’s
Clifton said the July 7, 2005, London bombing coverage
depended on the reports from people on the scene who
provided the network with high-quality photos and videos,
as well as e-mailed news material. Clifton said the event
signaled the start of a new relationship between the British
network and the public.
Today, the BBC continues to encourage people to interact
by sending their e-mails and comments, which are aired
during programming. Clifton said these new technologies
are playing an important role in shaping the news coverage
of mainstream media.
The new technology is also bringing new challenges
to the tenets of traditional newsgathering organizations.
Clippinger stressed the need to come up with proper
procedures that can create a healthy online community and
citizen media. He said legislation imposed on these new
media technologies is not the best solution to create an
effective media that serves the citizenry. He said the way
forward is to encourage norms of social exchange that will
ensure the effectiveness of the technology and the success
of the medium’s contribution to the public interest.
Ultimately, he said, we have to come up with social
protocols that could facilitate the emergence of trusted
networks of social, cultural and economic exchanges. His
analysis gave the audience a new perspective regarding the
trend and revealed how policymakers and strategists view
the future of media technology.
There is no clear consensus among the experts. After
the panelists’ presentations, Danny Schechter, editor
of Mediachannel.org, accused them of arrogance for
discounting the ability of people to become a force that can
create a better media — a media that is neither controlled
nor biased. Schechter, who is working on two new books,
“The Death of Media” and “When News Lies,” sees no need
to control or to channel these opinions or to keep the media
accessible only to professionals. He said ordinary people
can act as reporters and can be opinion leaders, too.
Among the audience members was a Saudi mass
communications student who shared his opinions about
Saudi bloggers and online forums. He described the situation
as confusing and asked about the social impact of the trend
on the Saudi citizen.
Bakkar responded, saying the ethics of the profession
should not be compromised. He shared his experiences with
bab.com, one of the earliest Arab news portals, and Alarabiya.
net. All precautions need to be taken to ensure accuracy
and avoid falsehoods, he said, which could subject the
organization to lawsuits as well as threaten its credibility.
BBC World anchor Nik Gowing said that although he
agrees with the power of citizen journalism, he does not
believe it can be taken seriously. He said to indulge in the
practice would be chaotic.
Others do not consider it to be an indulgence. Indeed, in the
Middle East, where traditional news channels are often tightly
controlled and heavily censored, the new trend of interactivity
with news consumers and the use of weblogs as information
channels may force the established organizations to become
more competitive and to aggressively seek the truth.
When mainstream media fails in its responsibility to serve
as a voice of the people, people now have alternatives. They
may take over the online space and find other, more effective
channels to voice their views. This means if traditional
journalism is to survive, newsgathering organizations will
have to get it right.
Women and Business
Saudi Women Taking Board Positions
The involvement of Saudi women in the decisionmaking process has been a source of controversy for some
time. However, the cultural barriers that have marginalized
women are slowly eroding.
Joining the ranks of women elected to boards of directors
are Dr. Naela Attar and Dr. Najah Alashri who earlier
this year garnered board seats of the Saudi Management
The association has 2,400 members across the Kingdom,
21 percent of them professional women. In early 2006, the
Women’s Committee of the association held a seminar,
called “The Leadership Role of Women on Boards of
Directors,” to project their services and objectives to the
community and to honor four women who won seats on the
Jeddah Chamber of Commerce & Industry Board.
Dr. Hanan Alahmadi, head of the association’s Riyadh
Women’s Committee and an associate professor of health
administration at the Institute of Public Administration,
delivered the keynote address, which emphasized the
association’s aims to empower and enhance the professional
status of women in leadership roles.
Dr. Hanan said research has proven that the absence
of managerial qualifications and the failure to implement
new management methods are among the major causes for
project failure. Therefore, applying managerial expertise
is a basic requirement for the success of any association.
Management today has become a science, due in large
part to structural changes in the world economy, increased
competition, continuous market changes as well as the impact
of globalization in the field of business administration.
Dr. Hanan stressed the need for a mechanism to bring
together management professionals and business leaders to
exchange views and expertise to develop more successful
business and managerial models.
She said the association hopes to raise awareness about
management skills and to develop the leadership role of
women in managerial positions. She urged women to
develop their potential in order to achieve both economic
and social success.
Dr. Naela Attar, head of the Jeddah Women’s Committee
in Jeddah and an elected board member of the Saudi
Management Association, welcomed the large audience
to the event and outlined the objectives and services of
the association’s Women’s Committee. She noted the
association’s committees across the Kingdom work together
to develop the potential of women in leadership positions.
Other objectives include the promotion and development
of managerial research, enabling managers to take part
in the development process, facilitating the exchange of
research between related organizations and institutions
inside and outside the Kingdom as well as advising groups
and assisting them with activities designed to increase
Dr. Naela gave a brief history of the association and
noted how it allowed women to run for office earlier this
year before the JCCI board elections. As a result, she was
elected to a board post along with Dr. Nagah Alashri who
also heads the Research Committee.
Although Saudi women today are highly motivated,
Dr. Naela said they still need to develop their potential in
order to achieve the best economic and social outcome.
She outlined the services of various association committees
that organize conferences and conduct workshops to help
women reach their potential and a committee that works with
media outlets to promote the role of women in leadership
positions and to counter opposition to societal development.
The association also conducts training programs to develop
“The Saudi Management Association recognizes the leadership
role of the four JCCI board members Lama Alsolaiman, Madawi
Alhasun, Nashwa Taher and Olfet Qabani,” Dr. Naela said in
her introduction. “That is why they are with us today — to talk
about their achievements and future role.”
The four women did an excellent job in sharing their
inspiring goals, dreams and objectives with the large
audience. Alsolaiman said businesswomen in Saudi Arabia
today receive great support. She noted the role of the Khadija
Bint Khowailed Center in promoting Saudi women and
providing them with training and expert business advice.
She explained the services of the center and the effect of
organizing workshops and programs that educate women
about their rights and help them take advantage of available
Madawi Alhasun told the audience that women have the
potential to lead despite problems that still exist. She said
women need to be more determined and to adopt a more
“In order to succeed and achieve our dreams, we must
not be pessimistic,” Madawi Alhasun said. “We must work
hard to develop our potential.”
She asked women to follow her example and dream for
a better future, not allowing nightmarish obstacles to stand
in their way. Madawi Alhasun also advised the women to
be innovative and to think of new business niches that offer
needed services to the community rather than flood the
market in already competitive sectors.
Taher and Qabani spoke about available business
opportunities for women in various sectors and briefed them
on entry requirements. They advised them to rely on the
Khadija Bint Khowailed Center for legal and professional
advice that can help them access available means to conduct
any business in the Kingdom. They urged them to be
informed about government regulation and to understand
the legal requirements before starting any business.
During a question-and-answer session, audience
member Dr. Nadia Baeshen, who heads the Khadija Bint
Khowailed Center, was asked to comment on obstructions
businesswomen face in the Kingdom. She noted that despite
orders from the Ministry of Labor, many government offices
have failed to provide separate sections so that women can
conduct their business without middlemen.
The Saudi Management Association has given business
and career women a chance for success and access to the
knowledge required to achieve it. Let us hope that its
path finding efforts encourage more businessmen and
government officials to end the stranglehold on women’s
aspirations that have led to women running for board posts
in the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and encouraged other
organizations to allow women to run for board positions,
such as the Saudi Journalist Association, which in 2004
elected Nahid Bashatah and Nawal Alrashed to its board;
and the Saudi Engineers Council that last month elected
Nadia Bakhurji to its 10-member board.
The message to Saudi women is clear. The barriers
to success are coming down; the negative attitudes are
changing, and it’s time for women to take a leading role in
the Kingdom’s growth and economic development.
Saudi and Italian Businesswomen:
A Partnership for Peace and Progress
Italian women take leading roles in their nation’s
business as well as government. When a delegation of Saudi
businesswomen traveled to Rome for a two-day forum, it
was an opportunity for women of the two countries to share
and learn from each other’s experience.
The Saudi-Italian Businesswomen’s Forum, held in
March 2006, stressed the need for Arab women to assume
the role of peacemakers and work across borders to connect
with other societies and benefit from the success of others
to foster economic and social development.
Judging from the coverage in the Italian media, the forum
itself was a great success.
The forum was held under the patronage of Princess
Fadwa bint Khaled ibn Abdullah, honorary president of the
Arab Italian Women’s Association (AIWA).
Founded in May 2002 by a group of professional
Italian women and the spouses of Arab ambassadors and
diplomats in Italy, AIWA seeks to encourage cultural and
social exchange between the Arab world and Italy in order
to promote better cooperation and a partnership for peace
and progress between the Arab and Italian communities.
Participants in the two-day forum included Arab and
Italian women entrepreneurs and investors. The objective
of the meeting was to expand knowledge of entrepreneurial
and business skills; outlining each country’s laws and
customs; and providing the necessary information base to
help women in the process of starting their own commercial
exchanges, establishing their own business contacts and
creating joint ventures.
This forum’s goal was to establish ongoing networking,
which could prompt a similar forum in Saudi Arabia in the
coming months. The forum also garnered support from
Rome’s chamber of commerce and ANSA Med, a news
network of Mediterranean press agencies that encourages
dialogue about political, economic, social and cultural
issues throughout the region.
The success of the forum was due in large part to the
efforts of Princess Fadwa, wife of Prince Muhammad ibn
Nawaf, former Saudi ambassador to Italy and now Saudi
ambassador to the UK. Her charisma and attitude were a
source of inspiration to all the Saudi women who met her.
Her initiative in fostering relations between the Italian
women and their Saudi counterparts should be commended.
Her efforts are in line with the UN Resolution 1335 that
recognizes the need for a worldwide initiative to engage
women as builders of society and promoters of peace.
The Saudi businesswomen of the delegation truly
appreciated Princess Fadwa’s work to include them in such
international events and to give them an opportunity to
help dispel stereotypes of Saudi women as oppressed and
During their presentation and the two-day interaction with
the Italian women, the Saudi women were able to portray a
more accurate picture of their status in Saudi society. They
also were able to convey the Saudi culture and lifestyle
and backed up their position by marking the achievements
of Saudi businesswomen in education, tourism, banking,
beauty, fashion, marketing, industry and trade.
The interaction between the Saudi women and leading
Italian women in Parliament and business was quite
remarkable. The Saudi women were truly inspired by
the Italian women who have assumed leadership roles in
The forum was one of several events held to promote
the association’s cause. It was organized in collaboration
with the Italian Women Entrepreneurs’ Association
(AIDDA), the members of which hope to create mutually
beneficial business relations between Saudi and Italian
The event provided a unique opportunity for the Saudi
women to share their experience with the women of Italy. It
is hoped that their visit will create better Saudi-Italian trade
relations and more cultural exchanges.
Sharing and learning from the experience of others is
the only way forward to build bridges between cultures and
to promote viable, long-lasting businesses. We should be
optimistic that the knowledge gained in Italy will help the
women of Saudi Arabia shape a future of prosperity for the
Women and Politics
Challenges Facing Saudi Women
There are many promising signs that our society is
confronting the abuse of women, both in the home and in the
hearts and minds of our people; however, many challenges
The newly formed National Society for Human Rights
receives and investigates complaints from women whose
human rights have been violated. The complaints include
physical, sexual, financial and psychological abuse. Social
workers have reported stories of women suffering in silence
and girls with no alternative but to accept a miserable fate
with no hope of avoidance or escape. After many years of
denial, our society now is exposing the Saudi men who
commit such crimes against women. Islam directed that
women be treated with kindness and respect, and there are
no extenuating circumstances.
According to sociologists, the reasons that such offenses
have gone unchecked are the inefficiencies of our Shariah
courts, the absence of law enforcement mechanisms and the
unwillingness of society at large even to acknowledge the
problem. The government has responded with changes in
the judicial system.
Although he admits the changes are necessary and
significant, former Riyadh Supreme Court Judge Dr. Yousef
Al-Jaber says the judicial system needs further improvements.
He has suggested employing sociologists and psychologists
to follow up on cases of domestic violence and to ensure
that the abused undergo any needed treatment. He also
recommends that the procedures for reporting domestic
violence be made easier and the establishment of women’s
sections in all courts of the Kingdom’s 13 districts.
At the same time, the National Society for Human Rights
has made plans to provide both a hotline and a shelter for
abused women. Regular workshops and lectures around the
country are being organized in order to raise awareness of
women’s legal rights.
Discrimination against women continues to be a major
problem. Although women constitute more than 50 percent
of the population, their potential is under utilized, and they
struggle to regain the rights of equality and justice Shariah
law has guaranteed them for more than a thousand years.
Experts say that the best way to increase awareness of
rights among Saudi women is to begin educating them at
a very early age. Now girls are taught home economics —
not subjects that would equip them to become independent
voices and demand God-given rights as men’s equals.
The greatest challenges to our society and the greatest
threats to Islam are to stop the misguided efforts of some to
mislabel old cultural taboos as tenets of our religion, and to
make women aware of the fact that they do have a choice
— that they do not have to accept a life of abuse in silence.
We need to change the attitudes of men who view
women as “inferior in intelligence and religious thinking.”
Religious scholars and educators must speak out against
men who manipulate women for their own selfish ends. The
media also has a role to play and should expose the selfstyled “pious” men who advocate the marginalization of
women and use their imaginary superiority as a justification
to dictate how women should live.
Recent studies have shown that many women suffer
abuse within their families and are desperate for a better
life but can find no justice in Shariah courts, and they have
no place to turn to for help or assistance. Many endure
unspeakable hardships due to poverty and neglect while
the self-appointed guardians of morality allege that Islam
forbids a woman from seeking work or driving herself to a
safe place in order to escape an abusive man.
People remain in our society who adamantly oppose
change and insist on following traditions that have no
basis at all in Islam. These people interpret Islam in the
most unyielding, intolerant and narrow way; as a result,
they vehemently oppose the empowerment of women.
They believe that women must be kept under the control
of male guardians, regardless of those males’ manipulative
characters or domineering tendencies. The time has come
for us to rescue the women who are at the mercy of violent,
inhumane or devious male guardians.
Such social issues cry out for immediate resolution.
Women’s rights must be addressed both by courts and
government departments. We must change negative attitudes
toward women and reject old customs and traditions that
allow discrimination against them — traditions such as
not providing women with the skills and opportunities to
earn a decent living. It is equally wrong to hold women
virtual prisoners in their homes in a place where there is
no dependable public transportation and also a ban against
Laws should be made and publicized, and those who
break them should be publicly punished. Women must be
guaranteed security and the kinds of lives that were ordained
by God and our religion. Abuse of women can no longer be
tolerated in Saudi Arabia if we want to be seen as Muslims
who follow the actual Shariah law.
Islam is a moderate religion, and Muslims have a duty to
correct the image that has been tarnished by extremists with
no respect for a woman’s dignity or status. Many extremists
resist change and insist on marginalizing the role of women,
claiming that Saudi society has a special religious character,
and Saudi women should not be compared to women in
other countries. For years, the extremists have relied on this
ridiculous and baseless argument in order to suppress and
isolate women. Those same arguments have hobbled our
economic growth and lowered our standard of living.
The majority of young, educated Saudis, both men and
women, want to be part of the international community and
to contribute to their country’s development. They want
to initiate changes that will lead to a better nation for all.
Educated Saudi women today want to project a progressive
international image, rather than the oppressed and repressed
one of women who have no voice or opinion in the future of
their country or in their own affairs. Saudi women especially
should aspire to a leading role among the Muslim women of
the world — a role befitting the women descendants of the
Holy Prophet, peace be upon Him, and the women residents
of Islam’s Two Holy Cities.
If Only They Were Given a Chance
The folly of denying women their political rights was
brought home to me during a recent conference in Kuwait
where an impressive array of Arab women political and
civic leaders gathered to focus on women’s political
“We have been brainwashed under the banner of tradition
and religion, and we have been convinced over the years that
as women we are incapable, weak and emotional — that we
are not qualified for political participation,” said Dr. Rola
Dushti, president of the Kuwaiti Economic Society. “The
environment has changed, and we will not allow any group
to belittle our capabilities and prevent us from exercising
our deserved political rights.”
Partners in Participation: Women’s Regional Campaign
School, held in September 2004, brought Arab women
together to hone their political acumen through speeches,
experience sharing and workshops. Elected officials,
Cabinet members, civic leaders and journalists from Algeria,
Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania,
Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab
Emirates, the West Bank/Gaza and Yemen took part in the
I was honored to receive an invitation to the event, even
though Saudi women are still sidelined in the political process
— at least for now. During the course of our discussions I
realized how little we knew of other Arab women and how
misinformed many of them were about their Saudi sisters.
Saudi women today are educated, intelligent and capable.
However, we do need exposure, experience and training in
order to catch up with other Arab and Muslim women who
have succeeded in getting the skills and rights to precede us
in the political process.
What some of the obstructionists in our own country fail
to understand is that this is not just an issue about women’s
rights but an important keystone for Saudi Arabia to progress
and compete with its neighbors — neighbors who already
are making use of this competitive edge while some here
attempt to ignore the unstoppable forces of change — and
the incredible benefits that accompany change.
“Political rights are not just a banner to be held but rather
a burden and a responsibility that must be fulfilled and taken
with utmost seriousness,” Kuwait’s first woman cabinet
minister, Maasouma Al-Mubarak, said in her keynote
address. She also stressed the importance of training and
skill sharing between women who wish to participate in the
electoral process. Moreover, she emphasized the need to
build a regional network between Arab women to guarantee
their success in politics over the long term.
Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada, urged
women not to be deterred by perceived gender notions that
obstruct the way of women’s participation in politics. She spoke
about her own experience as the first woman to hold the post
of prime minister in Canada and how she also faced challenges
in breaking the stereotypes that restrict women’s societal roles.
Algerian MP Samia Moualfi and Moroccan MP Amina
Ouchelh spoke about their political roles and the challenges
that confront women in their countries. The members of
parliament shared their political experience and revealed how
Algerian and Moroccan women are much more advanced in
political participation. Their speeches were enriching and
inspiring. Each member of the two delegations represented
different parties in their government. The respect they had
for each other and the sophisticated dialogue between them
truly was impressive.
Participants, presenters and workshop trainers also took
part in a series of panel discussions addressing key issues
relating to the promotion of the participation of Arab women
in political life. Many of the candidates, who participated in
election campaigns in their own countries, appreciated the
training that could strengthen their political skills. Others
hoped to improve their ability to participate in civil and
Woman after woman from across the Arab world told the
participants of her challenges and her successes. They all
shared a common conviction that they could — and should
— play a key role in solving the problems of today and
helping to shape the future of their societies.
I met young Lebanese women who shared their
experiences of fighting — and failing — to lower the voting
age to 18. However, they are still determined to try again
and work on changing the legislation.
I met Palestinian women who intend to gain the power
to make a difference in a new Palestinian state and to be
part of the decision-making process — women who have
suffered a great deal under Israeli brutality and occupation
but are still hopeful and eager to rebuild their destroyed
There were Iraqi women who spoke about their
determination to fight for a united Iraq under a democratic
rule that respects all Iraqis as equal citizens.
Women from Yemen talked about their fight to regain
their right to participate in Shariah courts — a right that was
taken away from them at one point by extremists who cast
doubt on their abilities.
I also met women from Oman who are participants in the
Shoura and hold other governmental posts.
Listening to these inspiring speeches and attending the
workshops on building political skills as well as interacting
with politically active Arab women leaders with similar
societies was an eye-opener.
The voices of women in Saudi Arabia should be heard
and respected as capable citizens and legal participants in the
decision-making process. To gain legal and political rights
is not un-Islamic, and there are many examples in history
of Arab and Muslim women leaders who were politically
active and who have left their marks in their societies and
who have had their names forever etched in the annals of
Participating in this historic event renewed my hope for
the future and left me with the conviction that Saudi women
can add much more for their country’s progress if only they
are given the chance.
A Seminar on Political Systems and
In July, 2005 I was recently invited to participate in a
seminar on political systems and local governance, and I was
asked to moderate a session on strengthening civil society
and women’s participation. Before I accepted the invitation
from the Club of Madrid in cooperation with the National
Institute for International Affairs, I did some research on
the organizations that I would like to share with you so that
you can also appreciate the principles of their agendas.
They both are independent organizations promoting
international cooperation to build political and civic
organizations and strengthening democracy in every region
of the world. The members of the Club of Madrid are
57 former presidents and prime ministers of democratic
countries who act as a consulting body for governments,
democratic leaders and individuals with initiatives to
promote democracy and international cooperation. Their
agenda is for action from governments, institutions, civil
society, the media and individuals to promote a global
democratic response to issues that threaten the world.
According to the charter of the National Democratic
Institute for International Affairs (NDI), “The institute does
not presume to impose solutions nor does it believe that
one democratic system can be replicated elsewhere. Rather,
NDI shares experiences and offers a range of options so that
leaders can adapt those practices and institutions that may
work best in their own political environment.”
The three-day seminar included participants from
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon and Morocco, and we
were all privileged to hear from former heads of state and
experienced politicians who shared their experiences and
The opening session was chaired by Kim Campell,
former prime minister of Canada and secretary general of
the Club of Madrid, with NDI president Ken Wollack. We
then listened to presentations from Spanish senators and
former mayors outlining the role of municipal counci1s in
sharing community concerns with the state.
Senator Beccerril, former Spanish minister of culture
and mayor of Seville, gave an inspiring presentation of the
role of municipalities and their relations with government.
She explained the role of professional civil servants and
advisers in addressing community concerns and service
needs. She described how the municipal movement called
upon the Spanish Government to enact decrees so that local
councils could get money from the state budget to implement
much-needed services to develop cities and provide better
conditions so that citizens could live in a decent, healthy
and comfortable environment.
Felipe Gonzalez, former president of the Spanish
government, delivered one of the most interesting
presentations to follow. He discussed his role in the Spanish
transition and talked about his special relationship with the
King. He noted that the wisdom of the King facilitated an
easy and peaceful democratic transition that endeared him to
the people in Spain. He also said the aspirations of Spanish
society to join the EU, the support of the business elite
and the empowerment of the weak were other important
Gonzalez emphasized that interaction between the
international community and the Spanish people along
with the cooperation between religious and political leaders
helped Spain reach the consensus that allowed a peaceful
democratic process based on reason.
Another interesting session dealt with recent experiences
of political change in the Arab world. Idriss Lachgar of
Morocco, Elie Khoury of Lebanon and Ibrahim Hussain of
Bahrain presented brilliant presentations of their countries’
experiences moving toward democracy and identified
similarities and differences as well as critical factors
detrimental to change, such as factional divisions.
Faiza Amba, who reports on Saudi Arabia for the
Christian Science Monitor, spoke about the Kingdom’s
reform movement and the positive changes she has
witnessed in the Kingdom since returning after an absence
of three years. She said there was optimism and dynamism
that filled the country and a genuine move toward change.
Sadiq Al-Mahdi, a club member and former prime
minister of Sudan, gave a detailed analysis of the political
and economic challenges in the Arab world. He discussed
the successes and failures and the way to move forward
with political reforms. He said what is delaying political
reform in the Arab world is the lack of political initiatives
among the citizens and the absence of mechanisms to ensure
democratic practices. There is a need to enhance cooperation
and communication among the democratic proponents in
the Arab countries. There also should be a dialogue between
the governments and citizenry to introduce the democratic
process peacefully without creating a conflict or resorting
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Quayid, an elected member of the Riyadh
Municipal Council, spoke about the recent Saudi experiences
with municipal elections and outlined the council’s role and
responsibilities with regard to Saudi political reforms. He
said there is a need to capitalize on gains made and to push
further to institute the democratic process.
Jaafar Al-Shayeb, an elected member of Al-Qatif
municipality and a member of the National Dialogue Center,
discussed political and legal reforms in the Kingdom. He
reiterated that international expertise and advice from
reputable organizations are necessary to help Saudis succeed
in the election experience, emphasizing the need for voter
education at this stage. He said the Kingdom needs to
strengthen its civil society and develop non-governmental
Abdullah Hassan Abdulbaqi, a former Saudi-British
banker, moderated the Plenary session that discussed the
main findings of the groups discussions. He spoke about
the current challenges facing the Kingdom, and he also
reiterated the need for international assistance and expertise
to support citizen participation in the decision-making
During the group discussion on strengthening civil
society and women’s participation, I had the opportunity
to present some of the challenges facing Saudi women
and the government’s efforts to promote the status of
women. Using the advice of Prime Minister Gonzalez
to take advantage of the pockets of freedom available, I
stressed the opportunities that Saudi women must take
to resist extremism and discrimination aimed at them by
some elements of society. At this stage, it is up to women
to demand their legal rights and to voice their concerns.
As a journalist, I genuinely believe that the media in Saudi
Arabia can play a more important role in raising the level
of awareness among citizens and educating women about
their legal rights. The Human Rights organization in the
Kingdom continues to expose many violations and abuses
against women, and the media highlights the ineffectiveness
of the courts. The pressure from both the media and the
human rights organization has prompted efforts from the
government to implement much needed judicial reforms.
Moreover, the newly formed Center for National Dialogue
is an attempt to bring together people of different views
and attitudes to address social and political concerns in our
society so that we can reach a consensus that hopefully will
Sen. Beninger, former Chilean presidential minister,
spoke of six domestic prerequisites for the implementation
He stressed the importance of building a political culture, the
promotion of civil society and pressure from the international
community to force governments to implement reforms.
He said windows of opportunity always should be used to
allow for a peaceful transition — not through confrontation
Beninger said the media should convey a positive message
about building the future. He spoke of a peaceful transition
to democracy through social force and social pressure.
He said in Chile that the only respectable power was the
church; therefore, it played a very important role. This is also the
case in Saudi Arabia, and there should be cooperation between
religious leaders and moderates to generate an atmosphere that
nurtures democratic freedom and political reform.
Diego Lopez Garrido, a socialist member of Spain’s
parliament, chaired a session on comparative experiences
on assistance for reform and democratic development. He
said democracy cannot be imported or exported. It is the
demand of the civil society in any country that facilitates the
democratic process. External support and expertise through
trade unions as well as the media help a great deal. Twin-city
relationships based on friendships between two cities are
tools that can help municipal councils carry out governance
more professionally and efficiently. Regional integration in
Europe and a bid for membership in the European Community
helped consolidate democracy and proved to be incredibly
powerful in the transition to democracy in Spain.
Listening to the experiences of others who have gone
through this process of peaceful democratic change made
me realize how important it is for Saudi Arabia to end
the isolation that has slowed its development and delayed
the process of reform and modernization. It would be
very unfortunate if we cannot benefit from international
institutions, share our experiences with others, seek
advice and request guidance on mechanisms that advance
democratic values, practices and institutions.
Saudi Arabia is a peaceful country that faces many
challenges to modernize and achieve prosperity and
stability. I am sure we all can appreciate the role that friendly
organizations can play in supporting the reform movement
in the Kingdom today.
Women and Diplomacy
Saudi WomenTowards A New Era
Diplomacy Benefits from Woman’s Touch
Confident and capable Saudi professional women taking
part in international delegations are dispelling long-held
stereotypes of women here as being uneducated and dull.
The recent visit of Saudi Arabian professional women
to Hong Kong in a delegation headed by Princess Loulwah
Al-Faisal had a great impact on the business community and
society. Their qualifications and level of professionalism
impressed all who met them. Many business contacts
were made; deals were signed, and many future business
prospects discussed. The delegation, which garnered intense
newspaper and television coverage, met with Hong Kong’s
community and business leaders.
The enthusiastic welcome given to the delegation was
very encouraging. The delegation met with members
of the Council of the Hong Kong Federation of Women.
The exchange of views and knowledge sharing about
community and women’s issues was very fruitful. The fact
that the visit to Hong Kong coincided with the International
Women’s Day also helped place the Saudi delegation in the
Speakers presented many business prospects and
opportunities during a visit to the chamber of commerce and
the Council of International Trade. The visit to Hong Kong
University was equally rewarding. Faculty and students
greeted the delegates as the university band played. The
Saudi professional women answered many questions about
Saudi society and the role of professional women that need
to be clarified in order to present a more accurate view of
Saudi women and society today.
The success of this particular venture, which was
organized by SAGIA, is attributed to the selection of the
delegation, which included academics, businesswomen,
financiers and media consultants. Their attitude and
sophistication played a major role in creating a positive
interaction between Hong Kong business and community
leaders and the Saudi delegation.
Jawaher Al-Sudairy, the talented and efficient SAGIA
representative, deserves all kudos for excellent organization.
The members of the high-profile delegation included:
• Princess Loulwah Al-Faisal, vice chair and general
supervisor of the Effat College Board of Trustees, president
and chair of the Board of Trustees of Al-Maharat Cognitive
and Skill Development Center and a member of Al-Nahdah
Philanthropic Society for Women.
• Princess Mashael bint Faisal bin Turki, educator and
provider of two popular schools in the Eastern Province.
She is CEO of Idrak Training Co. with an interest in
upgrading Saudi management policies in the Kingdom.
She also is a member of the Businesswomen’s Association
and is active in promoting and assisting businesswomen to
create innovative business enterprises.
• Noura bint Turki Al-Faisal, assistant to the vice
chairman of the Board of Trustees and general supervisor
of Effat College and Dar Al-Hanan School.
• Samira Al-Sowaigh, businesswoman from the
Eastern Province, shareholder of Al-Moaibed Co. that
specializes in paper production and trade and a member of
the Businesswomen’s Association. She is also the owner
and general manager of Attala Commercial Services Co.,
which specializes in media, public relations and product
• Dr. Haifa Jamal Allail, dean of Effat College.
• Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, cofounder of Yibreen
• Lama Al-Sulaiman, board member of the Jeddah
Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
• Ghada F. Al-Tobaishi, deputy general manager,
Attala Commercial Services and Advertising Company.
She has 20 years of experience in the field of media, PR,
event organizing and marketing. Ghada has successfully
launched many international and local events and conducted
exceptional advertising campaigns in the Kingdom. She has
wide international contacts and communication skills that
have made her a prominent personality in the field of PR
• Mishael Al-Dabaan, investment banker of the HSBC
• Sara Siraj, relationship manager, Corporate Banking,
• Mina Al-Oraibi, a journalist for Asharq Al-Awsat
The futures of these talented women look very promising,
and their input as delegates was invaluable.
The role of such delegations should not be underestimated.
Fostering cultural relations as well as boosting business
cooperation is the way to achieve global peace and
prosperity. The international business community can play
a role by building bridges between different cultures and
influencing decision-makers to create better policies that
end conflicts and wars.
Let us hope that more Saudi women will be asked to join
business delegations and become more active members of
the global community. Diplomacy benefits from a woman’s
Arab Women Can Power Peace and Progress
Politicians have failed to bring about peace in many parts
of the world. The Arab world in particular has suffered the
most. There are many reasons behind the failed diplomacy.
One of them is the absence of women in negotiations for
The 2006 Jeddah Economic Forum focused more on the
global role of women and their contributions to economic
change. Women delegates presented the future vision of
women and emphasized the importance of engaging women
as builders of society and promoters of peace.
One of the most interesting lectures was delivered by
Haifa Al-Kaylani, founder and chairman of the UK-based
Arab International Women’s Forum. She stressed the need
for Arab women to assume the role of peacemakers and
work across borders to connect with other societies and
benefit from the successes of others to foster economic
and social development. According to her, we must build
bridges and build businesses, which require collaboration
between government and civil society as well as policies to
regulate the social, political and economic environment.
Al-Kaylani said when women prosper, families and
communities prosper. Educational attainment is the key to
empowerment, and women can be the engines of change and
development. She said we live in a world without borders,
and the Arab world is at the heart of the globalized economy.
Arabs are expected to work hard and strive to negotiate with
partners across borders to establish their role in the global
village. For women to take part in this transformation, they
need to master business and information technology to
speak to the world.
Arab women have a lot to offer, Al-Kaylani said. They
possess a rich culture and heritage unknown to the rest of
the world, which prompt a need to create greater public
awareness about Arab women’s successes and achievements.
Arab women can play a greater role building bridges of
understanding to connect with other cultures. They need to
network within the region and beyond to the international
community and both contribute to and benefit from that
The region has suffered from civil and regional wars.
Women always suffer the most, and they strive to keep the
families together and maintain a healthy spirit in their homes.
After her speech, I asked her how can Arab women play
a more active role as peacemakers and work across borders,
to which she replied that empowerment is the key and that
they need educational access and a voice in governance.
Women so empowered can take an active role in ending
hostilities, first and foremost by raising the next generation.
If educated and enlightened they will be able to teach their
children the importance of dialogue, opening channels to
present their positions — but not in a combative manner.
Peaceful ways and means can be the weapons to end
wars. Educated mothers can do that. Instead of having men
negotiate settlements, why not allow those who suffer the
most to resolve these conflicts?
Al-Kaylani mentioned UN Resolution 1335, which stipulates
that women should be involved in peace processes and participate
in peace negotiations next to men. Women should no longer be
viewed as victims but as promoters of peace instead.
The launch of this initiative in the Arab world in
2002 by Suzan Mubarak of the Geneva- and Cairo-based
International Women for Peace was designed to find ways
to empower women across the Arab region and women
in war-ravaged areas, such as Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and
Algeria, all of which have endured civil strife. Even in wars
between nations women can teach the culture of peace and
build bridges of understanding.
She added that conferences, seminars and the media can
be used to promote these ideas, noting that her next stop after
Jeddah would be Alexandria, Egypt, for the launch of the first
institute for peace studies in the Middle East under the umbrella
of the Suzan Mubarak International Women for Peace.
An equally inspiring Arab woman who I met during the
forum was Farah Daghustani who attended all three days
and shared her views on this worldwide initiative to engage
women as builders of society and promoters of peace.
Educated in Amman, Jordan, she earned a bachelor’s
degree in modern Middle Eastern studies and Islamic history
at Oxford; later she completed a master’s degree in public
administration at the Kennedy School of Government.
She now serves as executive director of the Jordanian
Hashemite Fund for Human Development. As impressive
as her credentials are her eloquence and sophistication and
Daghustani praised the Saudi women who are assuming
leadership roles in society and hoped for more cooperation
and networking between Jordanian and Saudi women. She
said sharing and learning from the experiences of other Arab
women would be very rewarding. She said such interactions
were often overlooked as people tend to look to the West for
models of reform and progress.
“Of course, there is a lot that we can learn from the
Western experience,” Daghustani said, “but we have to
develop our own methodology that caters to our traditional
values and way of life.” She added that we need to generate
new ideas and strategies to allow Arab women to connect
and come up with programs to benefit all.
One such program, she said, is the cooperation between
the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development
and the Khadija bint Khuwailed Center to build home
businesses for enterprising Saudi women.
Daghustani said her organization was established in
the late 1970s. It focuses on community development and
includes programs ranging from health care to political
participation. The objectives are to reach women in remote
areas and to communicate with women across borders to
find the best methods to assist those in dire need. She said
Arab women can work together to dispel stereotypes and
achieve tangible results as more active promoters of peace.
Al-Kaylani’s words and Daghustani’s comments were
very instructive. The challenges facing the Arab world are
many, and the impediments facing Arab women remain.
However, with such initiatives and a clear vision for peace,
the future looks more promising. Empowering Arab women
today could spare the region a lot of pain tomorrow.
Will Arab women be given the opportunity to be active
promoters of peace? And will Saudi women find their place at the
negotiating table? Those two questions remain unanswered.
A Visit to Rural America
The Committee for Development of International Trade
of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry
sponsored an outreach program in several American cities
in Tennessee in July 2005.
I was accompanied by my daughter, Sara, on a program
of visits to civic organizations and media organizations to
discuss Saudi-US relations, developments in the Middle
East and the Kingdom and other issues of the day.
The three-day program traveled more than 600 miles
through Central Tennessee, including visits to three
Rotary Clubs – consisting of about 250 people, two daily
newspapers, one radio show, one television show and one
We were escorted by Patrick Ryan, editor of the SaudiUS Relations Information Service and a resident of Central
We met with community leaders and opinion leaders
– politicians, academics, lawyers, doctors and business
It was quite an experience to visit rural America and
get acquainted with the people I have read about in novels
and history books. I didn’t know what kind of reception
to expect and was a little apprehensive; for I was under
the impression that the South represented the hardliners
– people who believe that Muslims are their enemies and
Saudi Arabia is a breeding ground for terrorism. I was
invited to speak at several Rotary Clubs across Tennessee
— in Murfreesboro, Cookeville and Smyrna.
My daughter accompanied me, and, like any teen-ager,
she tends to be very observant and quick to criticize, and
I was a little worried that she would get bored. However,
to my pleasant surprise I saw her enjoying the events and
even paying attention to what was being said and discussed.
Although politics is not her favorite subject, she still
appreciated my efforts to project the true image of Saudi
Arabia. In my speeches I tried to present the human side of
Saudis and explain the challenges of reforms and the threat
of terrorism that Saudis also have to endure. Sara never tired
of listening to me repeat the same speech time and again. In
fact, I would find her reminding me of what I had missed to
say the second time around. I guess it was important for her
to have the respect and trust of the American people as she
has grown up enjoying their jokes, songs and movies. Since
she was four, Sara visited the States every summer. Her
brothers and sisters went to school in Virginia and Boston
and have had beautiful memories of friendships, classes and
teachers, and had great times visiting shopping malls along
with Disney Land and Sea World.
In my speeches, I explained to the Rotarians that the
Saudi people realize the difference between the US foreign
policies and the American people. We respect American
values of human rights, freedom of speech and justice for
The Rotarians impressed me with their sense of patriotism
I could relate to their Christian habits of beginning their
events with a prayer as we Muslims start everything in the
name of Allah.
They also swore allegiance to the flag on every occasion all
in one voice which I thought they did with great enthusiasm
and pride. Maybe that could explain why they would tend
to be more aggressive and somewhat intolerant than others
when they feel that their country was being threatened or
attacked. I felt I needed to ease their fears and correct their
misconceptions. The message in my speech was that the
Muslims are not enemies to Christians, Jews or Americans.
We pray five times a day to the descendants of Abraham,
Jesus and Moses and there is a whole chapter in the Qur’an
on the Virgin Mary. The Jews have lived among Muslims
before the creation of Israel and were never discriminated
against until they decided to rob Palestinians of their land.
They had safe havens in Arab lands when Hitler planned
the Holocaust. The conflict in the Middle East is politically
motivated. Politicians have failed to achieve the peace.
Extremists have taken over the lives of Christians,
Jews and Muslims alike, and we, the silent majority, are
being manipulated for the selfish gains of political leaders
who only have their own interests in mind. We are not the
decision makers, and our religions don’t preach hatred and
bigotry. We need to embrace our shared values of peace,
love and the brotherhood of man.
No devout Muslim will forsake his religion because of
acts of terrorism that are committed by some who claim
to be Muslims. And no pious Christian will abandon his
religion for the likes of Timothy McVeigh or for the sake of
those who bomb abortion clinics in the name of Christianity.
There are also many Jewish people who believe that the
Palestinians have a right to exist.
The threat of terrorism is not only in the United States.
Saudi Arabia is also a victim. It pains me to hear that the
American people believe that Muslim Scholars have not
condemned terrorism and that Saudi Arabia is willingly
funding the terrorists. The truth is the majority of Muslims
scholars have condemned and condemned but their
condemnation never reaches the American people. The
Friday sermon in Saudi Arabia is translated into English
every week for the benefit of the Western audience who
refuse to believe that terrorism is condemned and rejected
by all Muslims and is UnIslamic.
Islam is a peaceful religion and the Saudi people hold
no animosity toward anyone. Saudi Arabia is moving
forward with reform and needs the support of its friends
and allies to make it succeed. It needs the cooperation of US
and international security forces to win the battle against
terrorism that is threatening our progress and development.
I know we have friends in America, and this trip has shown
me how Americans are still the warm and friendly people
that I have always known. Even in Tennessee, my daughter
and I were received with warmth and respect. Their
hospitality was overwhelming. Our host, Patrick Ryan, and
his family and friends have shown us great hospitality that
will be difficult to reciprocate.
I am now back in Saudi Arabia, and I shall always
remember beautiful Tennessee and the wonderful people
who I have met and learned to respect.
The National Dialogue
In the history of mankind, the leaders who have
encouraged the input of the people are relatively few. We
have been given one of those rare chances by our leaders
to take part in the ongoing National Dialogue, and we are
blessed to get the chance to voice our views and listen to
others to forge a collective new way forward
The dialogue is hoped to give us all the chance to
understand the obstacles we face on the road to a bright
future, and it gives us the chance to help
shape that future. It is likely that central issues will
emerge that we as a people will have to confront — and
It will require resolve on all our parts to open our minds
both to the harsh realities of today and exciting future
plans. It will require us to consider many things we have
not considered before, and it will require all of us to keep
an open mind to the ideas we hear.
Saudi Arabia is the heart of Islam and just as our King is
the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, so are all of us the
ambassadors of Islam — to a wide variety of cultures with a
wide variety of traditions and customs. We must find a way
for the world to respect our customs and for us to respect
Islam can become both esteemed and great in the ages to
come if it again returns to the forefront of science, medicine
and technology. Our country will flourish with universities
and domestic economic activity; it won’t without them.
We all need to help chart the course — to find the path
— to the future, and we all need to listen to what others have
to say — and not summarily dismiss any idea that comes
All the holy books of the Abrahamic faiths suggest
that you should leave the world a better place where your
children will flourish; in that regard, I am sure we have little
The goal is to blaze a new trail, and to lead our people
— and the Ummah — to greatness once again.