Culture And Media

Saudi Arabia: Restrictions on women, but room for hope, says writer

Rome, 23 Jan. (AKI) - While the treatment of women in the conservative Islamic society of Saudi Arabia has been widely criticised, at least one female Saudi author believes that there is reason for hope.

Rajaa Alsanea, 28, is the author of the Girls of Riyadh, a story about four Saudi girls, studying at the university in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. The book speaks openly of sex, lesbianism and the desire of young women to lead freer lives.

Originally released in Arabic in 2005, the book was initially banned in Saudi Arabia due to its controversial content but was sold across much of the Middle East. The book has been translated into several languages and was recently released in Italian.

"I am not ashamed of saying that we have things that we need to work on," said Alsanea in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).

"All societies need to improve. That's life, things need to improve and things need to change, and I feel some people don't realise that and they want things to be done in the shadows, like they were done for so many years," she said.

Under Saudi Arabia's conservative Islamic code, women suffer severe restrictions on daily life. They are not allowed to appear before a judge without a male representative, or travel abroad without a male guardian's permission.

Nor are they allowed to drive, although King Abdullah has said he would be in favour of lifting this ban if society accepted it.

Despite the privileges that men have, Alsanea believes that it is women who will be the engine for change in her country.

"They [women] are more motivated. They need more than men in Saudi [Arabia]," she said. "You can succeed as a man in Saudi [Arabia] based of the fact that you're a male, you have more job offers than females, because you have more fields to work in than females."

"If you have the connections, if you come from a well-respected family, you can guarantee that you will [have] a very good marriage. Things get done for you basically because you are a guy," said Alsanea who herself comes from a conservative Saudi family.

"On the contrary females have to work twice as hard to achieve," she said. "That's why women are more motivated than men."

"The change in Saudi Arabia and the reform is going to be made by the power of women, by women working behind it," she said.

The author said she was also encouraged by certain changes to laws in Saudi Arabia.

She highlighted the recent news that women no longer needed permission from their guardians in order to travel from one city within Saudi Arabia to another, or to ride a train or an airplane or stay in a hotel in the kingdom.

"This was cancelled just a few days ago," said Alsanea. "Females can now go around without the need for permission from their male guardians. Your female ID should be enough for you," she said.

"This is something that men have always had but not women," she said. "Having these little things put together, I think we have a very bright future for females in Saudi Arabia."

Alsanea currently lives in Chicago in the United States where she is studying dentistry.

She said that her novel is now also available in Saudi Arabia and that she was encouraged by the number of books that have been inspired by Girls of Riyadh.

"So many writers have followed my path," said the writer.

"There have been hundreds of books written with the same style. People just need something new, they need something they can believe in," said Alsanea.

"Females saw what I did and they thought they can create some change and it's not so hard for them to do as much as I did," she said.




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