Today, the 8 of March, is a worldwide celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. The event attempts to draw attention to the situation of women around the world in terms of gender equality, bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
The day wasn’t formally recognized until 1917 when Russian women demanded “food and peace”; the Russian Tsar was forced to abdicate four days into the strike, and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.
The strike began on March 8th, which is now recognized as International Women’s Day.
Celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Brussels Morning scheduled an interview with Dr. Sarah Abdulaziz Alfaisal, Member of the Council of the HRC.
AK: The past few years we have witnessed the “Anti-Male Guardianship Campaign and the “Women to drive Movement”. In your opinion what was the impact of these movements on society?
SAA: To begin, it is important to emphasize that societies have their own contexts, customs, and cultures, and that what affects one society may not affect another, and that it cannot be judged by different criteria, and the great reforms that have taken place in my country, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, cannot be judged by different criteria. There are historic reforms that have never been introduced to the public before, and this is a result of a progressive and bold leader who heard his people’s needs. “In the past, Saudi women could not travel without a permit,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said years ago “She was unable to attend sporting and cultural events, drive a car, do a lot of her work, and complete her cases without a mahram, and she has been suffering from this for dozens of years.” He was put under a lot of strain for these successful I would say reforms, and with his effectiveness and recognition from the public, everyone is proud of where we are today while remembering the obstacles from the past. Today, Saudi women are experiencing an unprecedented empowerment phase, in which they have been empowered in the fields of work and personal status, and they have now become a partner of the Saudi man in the development of the nation, and she is ready for that because she has been waiting for this empowerment for a long time.
AK: How do women see themselves in Saudi Arabia? Can we talk about a Saudi Feminism Movement and just how strong is it?
SAA: In fact, it is impossible to discuss (a feminist movement) in Saudi culture since the term is misleading, and I have never considered it in this light, because there is discrimination, yet Saudi women are still first-class citizens who view themselves as men, and they may be powerful. The answer is more correct when statistical facts about women in education and occupations are provided to illustrate the level of empowerment they have achieved, such as the ability to hold leadership positions and a 32% participation rate in the labor market. It is self-evident that because of these changes, feminist awareness will grow, and women will become more aware of their rights and responsibilities. It is self-evident that because of these changes, feminist awareness will grow, and women will become more aware of their rights and responsibilities.
It is worth noting that women’s rights have received great attention and follow-up from the Human Rights Commission, especially that the field of women’s rights, in particular, is one of the areas that has received a large share of reforms and developments, including legislative, judicial, procedural, administrative and other aspects, including, as I mentioned above, have raised levels of empowerment and engagement Women are in decision-making centers, and their participation is an essential and effective element in all fields, as well as several councils in the judicial, legal, military, security, and diplomatic domains.
When the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 was released in 2016, the percentage of women participating in the labor market was 21%, but it has since grown to 32% in a clear and quick development that is publicly tracked and followed up, just as was envisaged in the Kingdom aim for 2030, This was announced by His Excellency the President of the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad when the Kingdom addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council a few days ago. There he spoke about the Kingdom’s historical reforms, the more than 95 historical reforms it has witnessed in the field of human rights, based on its firm values, in implementation of its national and international obligations, and within the framework of its ambitious vision.
AK: When ECOSOC elected Saudi Arabia to the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the 2018-2022 period, the outcome was widely criticized. What was achieved during this period, and what should we expect as a legacy of this election?
SAA: In my answers to the previous questions, I mentioned what was accomplished during this time, and the Kingdom’s election to the UN Women’s Rights Committee is based on what was already happening on the ground in Saudi Arabia, where profound transformations and radical reforms for the benefit of women were already underway. The extent to which women have equal access to essential rights to education, labor, and public services, as well as positive discrimination in some cases.
Human rights ambassador, undersecretary, deputy minister, and university director, as in cleaning the path to gaining full equality in other crucial posts with males.
And, while we cannot deny that more progress is expected and that all parties in the Kingdom, including the leadership and the people, are working to develop and consolidate the gains, this fact confirms what the Kingdom is experiencing in terms of women’s rights achievements is one of the most important things that happen on a global scale. So, unless there is ignorance of the reality of what is happening on the ground or a willful disrespect for it, we do not see a reason to undervalue these accomplishments.