It may be true that Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia can’t drive in her home country, but it hasn’t seemed to hold her back. Nor does she seem to resemble what you would think a royal woman in one of the most conservative Muslim countries in the world should be. True, she’s the daughter of her country’s former leader, King Saud (who apparently founded Saudi Arabia’s first university for women) niece of the country’s current king and just one of 15,000 royal family members. But she’s also divorced. She describes herself not only as a mother (a traditional women’s role) but as a businesswoman and journalist (not so traditional in conservative Islam).
She’s also not afraid of speaking out about conditions for women in Saudi Arabia. The BBC recently asked Princess Basma what she would most like to see changed in her country. Driving falls nowhere near the top of the list:
1. Men and women should be viewed equally under Saudi Arabia’s constitution. Currently, she feels that Saudi law is too vulnerable to each individual judge’s interpretation of Sharia, and has strayed away from original mandates laid out in the Koran. She asserts that,
“In particular, the constitution should protect every citizen’s basic human rights regardless of their sex, status, or sect.”
2. Women need more rights in the divorce process. As it stands, women either have to pay exorbitant fines, have someone vouch for their reason for divorce–which may involve abuse or other extremely personally information–or risk having rights to their children automatically given to their husbands.
3. The Saudi education system needs a makeover. She tells the BBC:
“The content of the syllabus is extremely dangerous. For one, our young are taught that a woman’s position in society is inferior. Her role is strictly limited to serving her family and raising children. They are actually taught that if a woman has to worship anyone other than God it should be her husband…”
Needless to say, she wants school curricula to focus less on the Koran and rote internalization of religious ideals. Instead, she would push science, literature, and free thinking into the minds of school children–both boys and girls–to enable them to contribute to their own and their country’s futures.
4. Social services must actually protect women. According to Princess Basma, women facing domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia are often turned away from much needed help. Women’s centers are afraid to accept them for fear of retaliation, especially from powerful wealthy families. She remarks:
“As a result we have seen many cases of suicide by educated women, doctors and scientists who were sent back to their abusers.”
5. Chaperons should be a thing of the past. The Princess has no problem with chaperons as the Koran originally intended–specifically to protect women from thieves in a vast, barren desert. Nowadays, however, she feels it’s time for Saudi Arabia to change with the times and give women the same independence as their male counterparts.
As for driving? She says,
“In the current climate if a woman drives, she could be stopped, harassed, beaten, or worse to teach her a lesson…This is why I am against women driving until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us from such madness.”
First things first, I guess. Hopefully Princess Basma can find a way to actually carry out these much needed changes.
What do you think?
Photo Credit:Cordelia Persen via Flckr
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