Someone to Watch Over Me: On the Saudi Guardianship Campaign

Someone to Watch Over Me: On the Saudi Guardianship Campaign September 9, 2009

When a woman says, “My guardian knows what’s best for me,” what should we do?

Earlier this month, blogger Eman Al Nafjan posted her feelings about a new campaign in Saudi Arabia. The campaign, which began last month, is called “My guardian knows what’s best for me” and aims to gather one million signatures in support of the kingdom’s status quo in regard to women’s guardianship laws. According to Al Nafjan, two Saudi princesses who support this campaign have started their own websites devoted to the issue.You can find both websites here and here (both are in Arabic).

A quick look to both sites shows that they are similar to each other. For example, in one of the sites, a link called “Our Strategic Goal” reveals that the campaign’s aim is “To promote for the culture of stewardship from an Islamic perspective.” The aim mentioned on the other site is to “Clarify the concept of the legitimate right of the mandate ‘of public and private’ to all members of society ‘men and women.’” [sic]

Al Nafjan quoted and translated from Dr. Elham Manea’s piece that replied to such act:

Some Saudi women have decided to express themselves.

They wanted to take a stand against human rights activists calling for Saudi Arabia to give women some (not all) of the rights that are enjoyed by their Arab counterparts in neighboring countries. So they came out with a new campaign titled “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me”.

Do we blame them? All they wanted was to fix a problem they know nothing of, and thus made it worse.  It would be strange to expect anything else from them. You cannot miss what you’ve never had.

Most of them belong to the Saudi aristocrats. Their leader is a princess. Their hands are velvet. They live in palaces and villas. How could we blame them for not knowing the reality of average Saudi women?

While Dr. Manea explained that a princess’ life (on which she based this whole campaign) is different from a normal Saudi woman’s life, I don’t see someone’s life as a reason, explanation, or even an excuse for her to judge or decide how other people should live.

If a woman wants someone to be her guardian and wants him to take care of her, her life and her choices, that’s fine by me, as long it’s her own choice and as long as she’s not asking me or any other woman to do the same!

They believe in something and they are expressing it. Believing in freedom of opinion, I wouldn’t have had reservations against the campaign if it weren’t for how they refused and rejected those who disagree with them.

On the first site, under the title goal, you can read:

“We reject all the cultural patterns which are inconsistent with our own culture.” [sic]

And on the other site:

“We reject all the ignorant or malicious demands, launched by the advocates of liberation and the westernization of the tenets of Islam and Arab identity, such as calling for the abolition of the role of guardians and patrons from our lives as Muslims, fueling feelings of getting out on religion and community values, sometimes in the pretext of doctrinal innovation, and for social and economic development at other times, while trying to instill unacceptable and flawed misconceptions and calling it anti-discrimination against women, such as: mixing, adornments, absolute equality, and many other demands that cannot be accepted by the mind of any Muslim prudent to this religion and those who follow it.” [sic]

She even goes as far as demanding punishment for those who think differently:

“We hope that the punishment of all who dare to provoke discord between the people, or promoting the quality of ignorance and corruption: “procedural or intellectual.” [sic]

Why do we only perceive our life style as the only right way of living? Who on this earth has the right to force his way, his choices and his morals on other people as rules?

Women empowerment will not be achieved neither by Saudi princesses quoting some verses from Qur’an on their online campaigns, nor by human rights activists who sometimes also slip into the same mistake of prejudice when they meet any woman whose life style is different from theirs.

Empowerment is the freedom to choose. Bring up your daughter to believe in herself and her potentials, educate her, and then let her lead her own life and make her own choices. If you bring up your daughter as a fragile creature that’s liable to fracture and who is unable to protect herself, she’ll grow up into a woman who’s just that: a fragile creature unable to protect herself.

Give her the liberty to choose her life, and stop judging her if that choice doesn’t resemble yours.

For other viewpoints on the guardianship campaign, read the opinions of Sabria Jawhar and Nesrine Malik.

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