Things have changed since women first joined the Shoura Council almost four years ago. While they first faced some disapproval from their male colleagues this is not the case now said Salwa Al-Hazza, a female Shoura member and a consultant ophthalmologist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. She said that there were some drawbacks at first as they were new to the Shoura with no experience and the female staff at the secretariat department were new as well so they were not able to assist us much. It, however, did not take long for women to know and work within the system in the Shoura and the necessity of lobbying to get more votes for their recommendations. What is even more important, she said, is that women have managed to win the trust of their colleagues of both genders.
Al-Hazza told Saudi Gazette that the percentage of women in the Shoura is the highest in the Gulf region, it even surpasses that in the USA and Canada. The 20% puts the Kingdom on the 80th rung in terms of women full membership in parliaments worldwide. She, however, highlighted that participation of women should not be looked at from a gender point of view but rather women should "realize" that their participation is making a difference especially that all women Shoura members "were not picked up from their homes but rather from leading positions in their fields. They are also chosen from different regions."
As the Shoura term of four years is about to end marking the first women participation in Shoura, Al-Hazza said that women have surpassed their male counterparts expectations despite the fact that women had to start from scratch. She added that male members are "happy and supportive" of women participation now.
Asked if all women participants are active she said that both men and women have number of silent voices and this is typical in all parliaments around the world and that percentage constitute normally a third of the total number of the parliament members.
Asked about the pressing files that they still want to bring to the table at the Shoura, she said that they are waiting for the harassment file, which she said needs urgent addressing, to be tabled. She added that the female ID card, which was discussed at the Shoura and implemented soon afterwards by the Ministry of Interior, highlights the role that the council plays in highlighting pressing public needs.
Thuraia Al-Arrayed another member of the Shoura who is also a poet, columnist and a planning consultant stressed in her talk with Saudi Gazette that women in the Shoura do not suffer from any discrimination and they are enjoying their full membership and are doing all the required duties including participation in discussions, tackling responsibilities, presenting recommendations and beyond that representing the council outside the country.
She noted that when women first joined the council there were different reactions not only in the council itself but even among the public. "There were people who were pessimistic, others said let's wait and see while a third group was totally against it." Things now, she said, has moved smoothly allowing women to almost finish their first term in Shoura while enjoying all rights just like their male colleagues.
Al-Arrayed noted that the voting system in the Shoura is not biased and has always varied according to agreement and disagreement with the suggestions presented regardless of the gender of the person presenting the idea. The change in views among male and female members of the Shoura is based on individual priorities and classifications of what is vital or not.
She further said that they were determined when they joined the Shoura to make their participation "succeed", adding, "I did not think of it as just doing a job but doing and providing what is beyond the best that is to say no room for failure."
In few months the Shoura is expected to change a large number of its members as some would be retiring while others will move to others positions and a third group might not be renewed. "We will see new faces and more women in the Shoura within couple of months if the total number of Shoura exceeds the current 150 members."
By Fatima Muhammad
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