Saudi activist: Female minister ‘first step’ but more needed

Saudi King Abdullah has appointed a woman to his council of ministers for the first time.
The appointment of a woman to Saudi Arabia’s influential council of ministers is a "first step" for women’s rights in the country, but it’s unclear if she will have any real power, an outspoken advocate said Sunday.

“It is something really great, and we are very proud of our king that he took this decision,” said Wajeha al-Huwaider, a prominent Saudi activist and writer. “And I think it’s going to be the first step toward the reform that he promised.” King Abdullah on Saturday appointed Norah al-Faiz to serve as the newly created deputy minister for women’s education as part of a major Cabinet reshuffling. It is the first time a woman has been appointed to the council. “I’m very proud to be nominated and selected for such a prestigious position,” al-Faiz said. “I hope that other ladies, females, will follow in the future.” Al-Faiz said she’s confident she won’t be a token member of the council. “I think by being the second person after the minister, I think I have enough power to work in the improvement of girls’ education,” she said. But al-Huwaider said it is unclear if al-Faiz will have any real power, or if she will follow the path of other Saudi women who had been appointed to lower councils but were never heard from.

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Saudi king appoints first woman to council

She noted that Saudi women still do not have the right to drive and are recognized under Saudi law as the property of men. “Even this minister now … she is not really in control of her life,” al-Huwaider said. “It is not up to her; it’s up to her male guardian.” She said the “guardianship system” is the first thing that should be removed by the new Saudi government. “This is the main thing that is controlling our life,” al-Huwaider said. “We want to be able to drive our cars, you know, to feel like we are just like the rest of the world.” Other positions that were replaced were the head of Saudi Arabia’s influential Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice as well as the ministers of health, justice, culture and education. Khaled al-Maeena, editor in chief of Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper in Saudi Arabia, said that the entire Cabinet reshuffling “sends a clear signal that the king means business.” “King Abdullah has always been saying this for quite some time, that he would like to see the country progress,” al-Maeena told CNN. “He has taken many initiatives, reforms, enhanced the power of women. … “And right now, by getting these people who are young — some of them — who have the right ambition and the right knowledge, to go ahead, I think it means that there is going to be a march toward progress.” Al-Maeena said that King Abdullah has “always been on the side of women and this stems from his pure and ideal Islamic values, which gives rights to women. …” “But unfortunately,” he said. “Over the past few decades, there had been some, you know, backrolling of women’s participation.”