The girl is actually a fictional character from the film, “Wadjda.” But she likely represents plenty of real Saudi girls. They may not yearn for bicycles, especially, but they may have other forbidden dreams.
Six months after “Wadjda” premiered, Saudi law declared bicycling legal for girls and women. But the continuing restrictions reveal why it was ever banned.
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.