Government-Sponsored Conference Considers Women's Issues

June 14, 2004

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On June 14, 2004 The Christian Science Monitor reported, "[W]hen the first government-sponsored conference on women's issues was announced early this year, there was a spontaneous and unprecedented outpouring of public support. Groups of women, individuals, and members of charitable and cultural societies from across the country flooded the council's offices with working papers, surveys, suggestions, and demands. 'The announcement made women act on a need that has been building up for years,' says Fatima Naseef, an Islamic scholar and university lecturer. Dr. Naseef got together with 32 women from different parts of Saudi Arabia and put together a seven-page document of their requests, including a safe house for battered spouses and a female-staffed office to advise women on their rights under Islamic law concerning divorce, child custody, support and alimony. The three-day conference on women, which ends Monday, is the third in a series of forums initiated by the country's reform-minded Crown Prince Abdullah. It follows previous meetings on political reform and combating terrorists. The forums' recommendations are nonbinding, but are part of the House of Saud's strategy to pressure militant religious figures and the extremists who have attacked the vital Saudi oil sector, killing and kidnapping foreigners. The fact that the conferences are being held at all, say some analysts, is an indication that conservative clerics are on the defensive. Spurred by the coming conference, women's issues have been given unprecedented attention on Saudi television programs, radio shows, newspapers, and private meetings in recent weeks. Saudis have seen debates on the pros and cons of women driving, how the court system and divorce laws are skewed in favor of men, the high unemployment women suffer, and whether desegregated workplaces violate Islamic law."