It’s official – Saudi Arabian women can take part in the London Olympics. Although the Saudi government will not officially endorse the move, women’s rights activists believe the step is in the right direction for the desert kingdom that does not allow women to drive or open bank accounts without endorsement from a male relative. One small step for women on the whole but for the Saudi women, a giant leap.
On the other side of the world, China included a woman, a 33-year-old air force pilot Liu Yang in their space programme. Yang fulfilled the requirement of a female candidate on China’s space initiative; she was married and lived in Beijing. Her profile has been highlighted in Chinese media. It was Russia that sent a woman for the first time into space, followed by the USA, which sent off its first female astronaut into space in 1983, Sally Reid.
Spring changes in Saudi
According to media reports, it seems the Middle Eastern Spring has shaken the somewhat conservative Saudi establishment – the ruling monarch King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has promised a package of reforms that seek to maintain a balance.
Women in Saudi Arabia have started designing their own abhayas lately, a major step for women in a country where men only were allowed to sell and handle bras. The Saudi King has promised participation in municipal elections – the only elections held in the kingdom – for women. He has also decreed that women can serve as full members of the Consultative Council or Majlis-al-Shura.
It seems the world is suddenly bursting with the good news of empowered women. Each of them is long overdue, yet, significant moves for women, who have faced many challenges on their way to progress. In countries where women face abuse, lack of opportunities, less recognition than their male counterparts, much still needs to be done to achieve a satisfactory level of empowerment.
There’s something significant when women achieve success, be it in business, space technology, participating in major sports activities or achieving global recognition. For each of these women, they have had to put in hard work, alongside that of taking care of the family and attending to household chores. For many, that has meant an added burden.
Ideal women role models
Does it really matter to the under-privileged women in countries such as Afghanistan that one of their sisters is entering the earth’s orbit –or that a woman heads among many others, one of the world’s biggest corporates…being women, often committed to the welfare of the children over and above ambition and career, most women are less concerned about milestones than keeping their children fed with three meals a day. Ambition is fine and so is a gilt-edged career but when faced with the task of managing it all, women have the capacity to come on top, all fronts conquered.
Statistics have it that women are still underpaid than men although they put in equally long hours. Statistics also point out that despite pregnancies and childcare, most women also simply have to work in order to sustain their families where typically, it is impossible to get by on one salary alone. Yet, women take it in their stride. The advances marked around the world are good and signify a powerful change in perceptions not just for women but for their children. Most children look up to a mother who works hard to keep the home fires burning.
Most mothers who have achieved a high level of success based on hard work, commitment and a drive for getting to the top, form ideal role models for sons and daughters.
Next generation of women
There are also countries where women were required to play a key role in bringing in change but were later told they were not really needed – Egypt, where women were in the front ranks of the powerful Arab Spring, is now no longer willing to give them a major role in the march forward. In Yemen too, women were in the front ranks of the Arab Spring movement but that does not seem to have signaled change.
There will always be the sisters who have the initiative, the desire and what it truly takes to a world changer; still for others, just keeping their children looked after, their families fed and homes taken care of, will do.
Yet, the next generation of women is not likely to be divided on such matters. Going by the talent, the sheer exuberance, the ambition I see among young women, it seems they will truly want to be world changers, each of them, in their own unique way. More power to them.
(Nayomini, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional can be contacted at email@example.com)