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Women in Saudi Arabia: the era of small reforms

May 22 category:World
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Women in Saudi Arabia: the era of small reforms



Saudi Arabia's quota Takes share in the athletes parade DURING THE opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. Saudi Arabia's first female Olympic athletes made Their appearance at the opening ceremony to the London Games on Friday, dressed in traditional hijabs, or Islamic headscarfs. REUTERS / Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS) - RTR35FIC

REUTERS / Suzanne Plunkett



Ryad legalize the sport for girls enrolled in private schools. Announced on 5 May by the spokesman of the Ministry of Education, the news caused a stir. Yet this measure applies only to private schools: public schools, girls are ostracized gyms and playgrounds.

Saudi Arabia is a unique case. This is the only country in the world where schoolgirls are persona non grata in sports classes. As required by the Wahhabi Islamic law, girls and boys are separated are exempted from physical activities at school.

In adults, the discrimination continues. Officially, the Saudi state allocates no budget for the construction of sports facilities dedicated to women.

Advanced by suddenly

An inventory that contrasts with the excitement in the Western media by the participation of two Saudi women at the London Olympics in 2012, the judoka Wujdan Shahrkhani and athlete Sarah Attar. A first in the history of the Games, had welcomed the International Olympic Committee (IOC). "We should not underestimate the positive impact of the participation of young Saudi judoka," said Olivier Da Lage, author of Geopolitics of Saudi Arabia. This episode illustrate the driven reform policy in the early 2000s by the ruling family. For part of the progressive wing of the kingdom, this type of event, global, creates a precedent and accelerates the process of reforms in the peninsula. Civil society is very organized and when it is, initiatives are repressed. In the kingdom of Saud, looking like gerontocracy, reforms therefore come from above.

Sometimes it's a true story drama that enables advanced. March 11, 2002, at about eight o'clock in the Girls School No. 31 in Mecca, a fire spreads. The gates are closed. Civil defense men are not allowed to enter the facility to rescue the schoolgirls. Order of the religious police: men do not come if all the girls are draped long black Islamic dress (abaya). The toll was heavy: fifteen teenagers between 12 and 17 years, are killed. Since then, girls' schools are no longer attached to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, but the Ministry of Education.

The Work of a clan

King Abdullah, often described in the kingdom as a champion of the cause of women, has ensured feminize the image of the regime. A change pledge the eyes of Western democracies. "Abroad, delegations from Saudi Professional (university professors, business women) accompanied the king on a diplomatic visit. Inside, the government has recently taken action against unemployment that facilitate the use of Saudi youth but also the Saudi youth, and this at the expense of non-national residents working in Saudi Arabia, "said Amelia Fox, a sociologist researcher at CNRS and author of Women and public areas in Saudi Arabia (Editions Dalloz, March 2011). She said the reforms undertaken by the Saudi government are part of a coherent political discourse since the early 2000s.

On 11 January, 30 women were appointed to the Shura Council. This consultative assembly, whose 150 members are appointed by the king, was previously reserved for men. Decreed by the monarch, the entry of women in the Shura Council has provoked strong criticism from sheikhs and princes members of the royal family.

Thank you to the women of power struggles

In fact, increase the rights of Saudi women not unanimous. To pass a law, "Progressive Coalition [around the king, note] advantage of opportunities that arise and temporary weakening of the reactionary coalition, analyzes Olivier Da Lage. But nothing is ever won because the company remains deeply divided on the issue. This is not only a struggle for influence between princes or religious. "

In terms of international human rights, caution should be exercised. Saudi Arabia remains the country's most conservative Gulf, especially on the issue of women. "Without reducing the scope of what has been done, it should be remembered that all these measures are small steps, says Tamara al-Rifai, Human Rights Watch spokesman in the Middle East. Women remain under the tutelage a man: a husband, uncle, son They can not decide their fate If a woman wants to have surgery, it is not free to do so without the permission of her guardian. "..

Although Saudi Arabia has not been directly affected by the popular movements that have emerged in the region in 2011, the monarchy wants to show that it is able to reform from within. It is further necessary that the rhetoric one day lead to the abolition of a patriarchal and conservative system.

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