(MENAFN - Arab News) Saudis are eagerly looking forward to the appointment of women on the 150-member Shoura Council with great hope and believe the move would further empower women and enhance the Kingdom's reputation.
Abdullah Omar Naseef, former vice president of the Shoura, said the names of new Shoura members including women are likely to be announced next week. "According to the law, the new members are supposed to be announced on Jan. 15," he told Arab News.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah made history when he announced in September 2011 that women would be appointed on the Shoura and allowed to vote and contest municipal elections.
"We refuse to marginalize women in Saudi society," said the king, a champion of women empowerment, adding that many scholars have supported his decision. "Muslim women in our history have had stances that cannot be sidelined," the king pointed out.
According to informed sources, the new Shoura Council will have at least 15 women members or 10 percent of its total number of members. Prominent personalities have been nominated to take up the challenging position. They are Al-Jowhara Al-Anqari, Asiya Al-Asheikh, Maha Al-Muneef, Mee Al-Eissa, Fatma Jamjoom, Jowhara Bubsheet, Mahasin Flimban, Noura Al-Asqa, Elham Hasanain, Wafa Taiba, Baheeja Baha Ezzi and Nihad Al-Jashi. All of them hold doctorate degrees in various specializations and work as consultants at the Shoura.
Other names that are likely on the new Shoura are: Huda Al-Ameel, rector of Princess Noura University in Riyadh, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Wales in the UK; Mouda Al-Zahrani, supervisor of women's protection department in Riyadh, who holds a doctorate in psychology from Columbus University in the US; and Noora Al-Fayez, current deputy minister of education.
Suhaila Hammad, a member of the National Society for Human Rights, hoped the authorities would appoint the most qualified women for the job. "I am sure they would find a lot of well qualified women to become Shoura members," she told Arab News.
Hammad hoped that women members would take up issues affecting women and work for changing systems and regulations that weaken their status in society.
She thanked King Abdullah for taking the initiative and described him as Saudi Arabia's No. 1 reformer. The appointment of women would strengthen the Shoura, she added.
Hammad called for changes in trade, real estate and civil status laws to protect the rights of women, recognizing the important status given to them by Islam.
She said the National Society for Human Rights was receiving a number of cases and complaints regarding violence against women and children and believed the change of regulations would contribute to reducing such family violence cases.
"Women are not allowed to do certain things without the permission of their male guardians. This must be changed," she said. "A woman is not allowed to admit her children to school without the permission of her husband. This has increased illiteracy among women," Hammad said, adding that illiteracy among Saudi women was at 27 percent while among men it was 9 percent.
Maha Akeel, a leading journalist and managing editor of OIC Journal, is excited over the move. "I think the historic decision by King Abdullah, may Allah give him good health and long life, to allow women as members in the Shoura Council will be forever remembered as one of the landmark decisions in support of women empowerment. It was a joyous moment and we look forward to seeing women in the council and hearing them voice their opinions and make recommendations like their male counterparts on various issues concerning our nation," she said.
Akeel said she hoped the excitement would not be dulled by superficial and trivial arguments over seating arrangements for women and having to be segregated from men to interact via closed-circuit television. She wanted female members to participate in the discussions on all issues and not only just women's issues.
Akeel also believed that the number of women members should be 45. "Women are half the society and I sincerely hope their number in the council would reflect that or close to it to become at least 30 percent. They will represent Saudi women in terms of their qualification, experience and diversity."
She added: "I expect the women's effect and contribution to the council will be noticed immediately as women bring in a different perspective on issues and can greatly expand on the discourse over any issue, which will be reflected on its decisions and recommendations. Also, women are known to be more committed and dedicated to their responsibilities and therefore I expect their presence and contributions will be highly visible."
Naseef, who has worked for eight years on the consultative council, commended the Kingdom's Shoura system, saying it operates like any other Parliament. "The Shoura plays a big role in drafting the Kingdom's rules and systems as well as international and bilateral treaties."
The Shoura members are appointed by the king taking into consideration their qualifications and expertise and represent the cream of society. "The working of Shoura is very systematic and its output is of high quality thanks to the efforts of its well-qualified members."
According to the law, a Shoura member should hold Saudi citizenship, aged not less than 30, should have an impeccable personal record and possess a high-level of competence and practical experience. "If you check the present list of Shoura members you can find them highly qualified and specialized in different topics. This enriches the discussions at the Shoura," he pointed out.