Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Saudi Women Still Can't Vote

Saudi Women gather at a voter registration center in Jeddah

The Saudi women who went to the polls to vote and were denied should be commended for their courage and determination. The only sad thing is that there weren't enough of these women. The challenges facing a Saudi women's desire to be treated as an equal are damn near insurmountable. For Saudi women, the phrase "there's strength in numbers" applies now more than ever.

The fear barrier that held back millions of Arab men and women is breaking down, as in country after country people are putting their lives on the line for freedom. This fear barrier is thicker for Saudi women, yet it can be broken down if women unite. In the recent attempts to vote, Saudi women showed up at polls by the dozens. If Saudi women showed up at polls to vote in the hundreds, better yet in the thousands, I think men would be a bit more hesitant in denying them their rights.

Besides the fear barrier is the issue of male guardianship, many Saudi men are opposed to granting women the right to vote and would definitely not allow or escort their wives, sisters or daughters to go vote. This is why Saudi women must violate the male guardianship law. This is much easier said than done, some women may be beaten or threatened if they try to leave alone and in most cases women face public shame.

In Arabian culture (especially Arabian Gulf), women are the source of shame for the family. If any sort of 'scandal' should happen involving a woman, she will be seen as bringing shame upon her family, I know this from personal experience. When we Kuwaiti women decided to protest for the right to vote, we were met by a substantial amount of opposition and eventually burned bridges with friends and relatives by protesting. What we lost can't even compare to what we gained; freedom, equality and a say in what happens in our country.

Saudi women can't remain hostage to their culture's notions of shame. They must focus on what they can do, and not what they can't. What Saudi women can do is find their strength in numbers, they have already found ways to communicate on a large scale through social media. Saudi women must then congregate in large numbers to be able to mobilize in an organized and effective way.  Once Saudi women find a way to show how strong they really are, nothing will be able to stop them.

I salute the women of Saudi Arabia and stand with them in solidarity as their Kuwaiti sister, may the day come when the women of Saudi Arabia reach their true potential.

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