Modern Woman in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Rights, Challenges and Achievements

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By: Hend T. Al-Sudairy

Newcastle, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 150pp. $119.95, ISBN: 9781443872812

Volume: 5 Issue: 12

December 2017

Review by:

Najah Mahmi, PhD

Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, and Nice-Sophia Antipolis University, France

Fes, Morocco

Modern Woman in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia : Rights, Challenges and Achievements is a book written by Hend T. Al-Sudairy and published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2017. The book documents Saudi woman’s aspects of life, achievements and challenges, notably shaped by Saudi conservative traditions and social structures that have restricted her opportunities and played a major role in making her  unfamiliar to the world.

Divided into six chapters, this book portrays Saudi woman’s life journey from the 19th century up to the present time, scrutinizing the way she has been located within her family, society and nation in general, and thus highlighting the major empowering governmental policies and the social changes which contributed to her progress and development.

According to the book, the 21st century Saudi woman is much more than the mystery stereotypically represented to the masses as either an ignorant oppressed woman or an extravagant and luxurious creature. She revolts against social destructive traditions that inhibit her success, yet honorably embraces others. The Saudi woman is an active pioneering subject in her society leading national and international roles.

The book’s first chapter focuses on Saudi woman’s history, describing aspects of her social and economic life and contributions to her community that differed according to geographical space as well as social strata. It is an attempt to unveil Saudi woman’s life facets described by the writer as “aspects […] of pride, while others were gloomy and hectic” (22), especially amid the change and development of the country advocated by the Saudi government in the last hundred years to allow much more socio-economic space for female citizens who, according to the writer, have “ always had [their] status given within [their] home and among [their] family”(2), yet not equally “granted a role outside it”(2).

In the second chapter, the writer tackles the issue of Saudi woman’s early education and compares it to the modern era, and affirms that education problem has been worldwide and not a dilemma that has existed only in the area that would become known in the early 19th century as Saudi Arabia, asserting that “the early women’s education problem is not confined to Saudi Arabia only, as education is one of the most important paths towards the empowerment of women everywhere. It is also an area where discrimination against women exists everywhere” (27). This chapter describes the progress of Saudi woman’s education and its modalities throughout history, as well as the role education has played in developing Saudi women’s critical thinking and thus attitudes towards themselves, traditions, rights and demands.

The flow of Saudi woman’s personal, social and economic development would be widely examined in the third chapter that depicts the way Saudi women have abandoned their traditional role for a more successful and assertive one, though heavily challenged by a variety of obstacles.

In the fourth and fifth chapters, the writer provides a general view on Saudi women’s early and contemporary writings, drawing major lines of conversion in writing conditions and then interests and tones, as early women writers used to “exemplify an anxiety in many different periods of their writing journey, and an awareness of their status, rights, struggle, and the social pressures upon them” (55), and hence documented Saudi women’s personal development as well as political, economic and social awareness, whereas contemporary writings are stronger and more liberal in their modes of expression, “seeking social reform, criticizing the social laws regarding women or simply attempting to climb the fame ladder through stepping on forbidden territories”(69). According to the writer, contemporary novels are an optimistic female response towards a powerful writing tradition that reflects Saudi women’s consciousness of their own existence. A selection of contemporary Saudi women novels is studied in the fifth chapter to familiarize the reader with their themes and artistic values, such as Malamah (Features) by Zainab Hufni, Jahliah (Pr- Islamic Era) by Layla Aljahni, and Alwarfah( the Lush Tree) by Omaimah Al-Khamis.

The book’s sixth chapter is devoted to examine Saudi woman’s achievements in the fields of education, politics, sports, and mass media, as well as the impediments she is still challenging, some of which are “not limited to Saudi women, but are shared by other women worldwide”( 123). The chapter stresses the fact that Saudi women have had major leading roles as social and political decision makers, and that they have always been active subjects in their society, yet in the modern era, their active political role “has entered a hibernation period for social and custom-related reasons” (113).

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