This was published as part of the annual Wilson Center’s Middle East Program celebration of International Women’s Day. You can find articles by women from all across the Middle East. I highly recommend Hala Al Dosari’s article on page 7.
The year 2014 marks the third year since the Arab Spring began in early 2011. Three years in and women in the MENA region are just now beginning to find their bearings and leave their mark. While women in the rest of the world were making strides in women’s rights, women in the Arab world had but only a few victories here and there that were never generalized or widespread to all. Fortunately, things have now changed dramatically, especially for Saudi Arabian women.
Although the same obstacles, including the guardianship system and gender segregation, are still in place, the difference now is in the virtual opportunities. Grassroots movements in Saudi Arabia have finally come into their own. Saudi women have mastered social media and its tools and are now using them to organize in a country where people are imprisoned for participating in public civil societies. Saudi women are not only taking advantage of these tools for women’s rights issues but also participating in the national discussion about human rights in general and the rights of Saudi citizens.
Through the ongoing grassroots movement of the October 26 Saudi women driving campaign, Saudi women (and men) put to rest the myth that the country is made up of a backward, misogynistic people ruled by a progressive governmental elite. Now they are showing the world that Saudis are capable of peaceful civil movements regardless of whether or not the government is ready or willing to accept that they are no longer subjects but citizens. Through the use of social media, Saudi women and men are now able to gather and discuss their issues without the threat of being arrested for breaking political or gender segregation rules. They are now able to find one another and organize with others who have the same civil and human rights goals. The usual tribal, gender, and regional divisions no longer apply. And from where I am sitting, I can see that Saudi people are taking full advantage of these virtual opportunities.