Saudi Women Can Vote. West, Middle East Can Learn From Each Other

Saudi women got the right to vote and run in municipal elections this week. It’s a big step forward.

There are limitations. It’s hard to run for office when you can’t drive or show your face. Some fear political stalling. And men could keep their wives and daughters from voting. But the women are optimistic. Let’s hope for the best.

Interestingly, only about five years ago George W. Bush sent Karen Hughes to Saudi Arabia to express her hope that one day Saudi women would be able to vote and drive. She was surprised when many said they didn’t want to do either.

Past relations between Western and Middle Eastern feminists have sometimes been strained with Western feminists lecturing Middle Eastern women, and Middle Eastern women rejecting what they see as Western arrogance.

Yet the road to women’s rights presents plenty of opportunity for all of us to learn from one another.

There is plenty that Westerners could have, and may have, learned from our Arabian sisters and brothers in the early years of Islam. When we were in the Dark Ages.

Back in the 7th century the Koran gave women the right to work, own property and inherit, and provided protections from domestic violence. Women were also granted the right to give their consent to marry.

But lately Arab women have been taking some cues from us.  Both the Arab Spring and Saudi women’s suffrage were inspired by Western democracies.

And perhaps now it is time for us to learn from them, again. The Arab Spring has inspired many Americans who wonder at our current state of democracy which is marked by legalized bribery (large campaign contributions) that make important matters like environmental sustainability and economic renewal political impossibilities.

Too often Western women think they have nothing to learn from their Middle Eastern sisters, while Middle Eastern women reject Western notions out of hand.

Perhaps we would do better to have dialogue and learn from each other.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 30, 2011, in feminism, gender, psychology, race/ethnicity, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I think that it is another exampe, just like “Women, Object of Desire”, which suggests how women’s value towards themselves changed throughout time. Although a lot of Saudi Arabs women did not want to vote, it did not prove that being passive and submissive to family, men are inborn. It can be a result of internalized social value and stereotype. It can also be a result of living under the power of a corrupted government, in a poor environment. To further investigate the real reasons and the characteristics of women, much more experiments, surveys must be done over a long time in the future!

  2. With the posts above, I can strongly agree about the fact that it is due to the deeply rooted traditions that females in the Middle East have little to no say in their societies. The biggest problem with tradition and culture is the fact that it is what people learn to know and are comfortable with. No one likes change. Why would anyone want to change something that they’ve always been taught to accept. The factor of brain-washing is the role that society presses onto women in the Middle East. The same can be also be said anywhere else. Even Asian cultures have some sort of domineering influence over females. It also shows that people should be appreciative of the opportunities and the culture of the American society.

  3. Taylor Groseclose

    I definetley believe Western women can learn just as much from Middle Eastern women as they can learn from us. To often we judge these women and the way they live their lives based on stereotypes we have learned through the media. I can understand how Western women can come off as arrogant because, although we mean good, we try to force our own culture and opinions on them without taking the time to understand how such a drasctic change could effect them. I believe Middle Eastern women are somewhat fearful of voting and driving because it is a completley new concept to them. They grew up with their mothers, aunts, and other role models not doing either, so it is hard for them to just reject what they have always known because Western women want them too.

  4. It is very exciting to know that women is some of the most oppressive societies are making progress. I hope the Saudi people, the men especially for various reason, embrace new changes and push for their for female counter-parts to continue to be given more civil liberties. I think that history has shown that the societies that have greater civil liberties for ALL citizens tend to become more successful in many aspects. My fear though that this movement may begin to plateau and begin to fade from the spotlight, as I feel it has begun to in the western world. As greater equality becomes more common place in the 21st century it can become easy to forget that there is still a lot of work to be done. Here in the United States I still see reminders that we still have great strives to make in social equality. With our own politics have become a battleground for hot-button beliefs that have real consequences on the the rights of women. Such as abortion and reproductive rights; currently there are several candidates making bids for president that have directly stated they have plans to alter laws affecting these issues. While this seems off topic and unrelated, my point is that what is happening in Saudi Arabia is a great thing and as a society that states we are free and equal we must provide the example for those who are not. But we are running the risk of becoming a poor example but not dynamically attacking the issue of equality, especially gender equality. So we should recognize this development even more and use it as a springboard to upstart talk about our own status as a equal society.

  5. I think it has a little bit to do with being brain washed by their culture and they honestly don’t know any other way. For as long as most of these woman remember, men have always been the dominant one whereas women were always the ones hiding, staying quiet and not having a voice. When you know of no other way than your not really sure of what it is that needs to change. For all we know the eastern feminist could think that we are rebellious in our ways, If you look at a culture of women that for years have lived very sheltered lives, a culture that is still very strict in their practices than you could kinda understand maybe why they wouldn’t want to follow in our footsteps.They might think that our way is a sign of rebellion and that we may be out of control, when of course that is not the case at all. Change happens with time and I believe the more we educate these women the more they will understand the importance of having a voice.

  6. It is very interesting to note that many arab females are not interested in expanding their own rights. I don’t understand the reasoning behind that, but I suspect that it is because they are fearful of speaking out or have been brainwashed by their own culture. Why wouldn’t you want to have an equal say in things? Maybe they truly do like to be dominated by men and find solace in knowing they are good wives. I’m not sure, but I hope for their own sake they make strides like this and continue to recognize their own importance.

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