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Women’s Changing Roles in Saudi Arabia, Research Proposal Example

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Research Proposal

Introduction 

In the 2008 documentary film Inside the Saudi Kingdom, director Lionel Mill was granted unprecedented access inside the personal and professional life of Prince Saud bin Abdul Muhsin, ruler of the Ha’il Province of Saudi Arabia. The film, produced by the BBC, focuses on some of the ways that contemporary Saudi Arabia is changing in the face of pressure from both inside and outside the country. Prince Muhsin presents a moderate and modernist viewpoint, asserting that Saudi Arabia is both a conservative nation and one that is rapidly changing to keep up with the modern world. Among the prominent themes address in the film are the changing roles of women in the KSA. While women are still expected to adhere to many of the nation’s traditional religious, social, and political codes, the Prince explains that social evolution is naturally slow in a conservative country such as the KSA. Several women are interviewed for the film, including a university student and a physician, both of whom note that women have gained significant freedoms in recent years, including the right to acquire a personal identification card, the right to open a bank account, and the right to work alongside men in hospitals, offices, and other professional settings. While some outside observers insist that change in KSA is too slow, the Prince claims that “85% of Saudis (including women) would not accept” changes that granted the same rights to women as are currently afforded to men. The following paper discusses the issue of changing women’s roles in the KSA, and challenges the notion that 85% of Saudis oppose rights such as the right to drive for Saudi women.

Research & Literature Review

In the film Inside the Saudi Kingdom, several interviewees, including the Prince, discuss the rapid social changes that have come to the KSA in recent years. The influence of the Internet is noted by the Prince and others; the Prince does, in fact, label the influence of the Internet as one of the prime reasons why people in the KSA are now more likely to challenge social conventions and openly question some traditional practices. The Prince’s perspective on these issues is valuable for several reasons, including the fact that he seems open to the notion that social change is inevitable. At the same time, however, when the Prince is questioned about such issues as the ban on women drivers, he insists that this ban is not a result of a government restriction, but is instead enforced by the power of social and religious custom.

Such declarations emphasize the difficulty in assessing social and legal conditions inside the KSA from an outside –particularly a Western- perspective. While the Prince’s assertions may be accurate, it is impossible to separate the influence and intertwined responsibilities and powers of the Muttwa –the so-called “religious police”- and the official government. In one scene the Prince claims that most Saudis, women included, oppose the idea of women driving; a few scenes later several different women are seen insisting that many Saudi women would very much like to drive. On balance, this film indicates that there are no simple answers to the questions about how, and how quickly, women’s roles in the KSA should change.

In the article entitled “Saudi women no longer confined to their conventional roles” author and journalist Sabria Kawhar describes her return to the KSA after several years in the UK. As Jawhar relates about her return to the KSA, “the biggest surprise…is the dramatic change in attitudes of young Saudi women.” According to Jawhar there are many young women in the KSA who are well-educated and are interested in entering the workforce. These women, writes Jawhar, are looking for lives that are “far different from (those) of their mothers.” The expectations about women’s roles have not changed significantly, according to the author; women are still expected to adhere to most social customs. What Jawhar sees on her visit is not so much that women are abandoning their traditional roles, but rather that they are expanding the scope and nature of those roles to include more opportunities and more responsibilities.

In the essay “Celebrating Strength: Saudi Women,” author Nourah Almansour takes a different view, arguing that women in Saudi Arabia are largely oppressed and cut off from many basic human rights. Almansour claims that women are expected to “play their role in society, just as men do, but without the same rights and authority.” At the same time, however, Almansour acknowledges that Saudi women are “slowly gaining” the same rights as women have in other p[arts of the developed world.

The driving ban that is mentioned in the BBC documentary continues to remain a source of contention for Saudi women. In the film, released in 2008, the Prince insists that the government does not ban women from driving. In a November 2013 article in the Telegraph newspaper (UK), journalist Chris Irvine discusses announcements by the Saudi government that the ban is being reconsidered. Such stories highlight the complicated relationships between government and religious authorities in the KSA.

Observers from outside the KSA question some of the nation’s social, religious, and legal practices; particular criticism is given to what such observers believe is the mistreatment of women in the KSA. The Human Rights Watch organization claims that women in the KSA are inappropriately restricted from a wide range of activities without the support or permission of their male family members or husbands. Interestingly, this very subject is addressed by several women in Inside the Saudi Kingdom (such as a student and a doctor) who both insist that many women have supportive families and husbands who help them to overcome such challenges and ease their way as they study or enter careers. Again, this shows the difficulty in assessing the KSA from an outside perspective.

Methodology

An enormous amount of research and literature has been devoted to the subject of women’s roles and other aspects of the society and culture of the KSA. The BBC documentary offers one perspective on these subjects, but there are many others points of view to consider. As the Prince was quick to point out, he is ruling in a time of significant change. In the years since the film was produced even more changes have come to the KSA. While the Prince asserted that 85% of Saudis would oppose great changes to the roles of women in the KSA, there are many indicators that demonstrate support for the changing roles of women. The Quantitative Research section of this study will be based on a survey model. This survey will be used to determine whether university-aged students of both genders oppose or support changes such as allowing women to drive. The survey will question respondent s about several ways that women’s roles have already changed in the KSA as well as several ways that they may change in the future.

The BBC documentary primarily reflected the perspectives of the Prince; the purpose of this survey will be to determine whether the perspectives of young adults of both genders are similar to those of the Prince and his generation. The group believes that there is greater support for social change regarding women’s roles among young people in the KSA than there is among previous generations; the survey will be used to determine the levels of such support.

References

Almansour, N. (2012). Celebrating strength: Saudi women. International Forum Of Teaching & Studies.

Hrw.org. (2014). World Report 2013: Saudi Arabia. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2013/country-chapters/saudi-arabia [Accessed: 18 Mar 2014].

Inside the Saudi Kingdom. (2008). [film] UK: Lionel Mill.

Irvine, C. (2013). Saudi Arabia ‘rethinking women driver ban’ – Telegraph. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/10478016/Saudi-Arabia-rethinking-women-driver-ban.html [Accessed: 18 Mar 2014].

Jawahar, S. (2014). Saudi women no longer confined to their conventional roles. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-women-no-longer-confined-their-conventional-roles-0 [Accessed: 18 Mar 2014].

Lacroix, S. (2011). Is Saudi Arabia immune?. Journal Of Democracy, 22 (4), pp. 48–59.

Saudinf.com. (2014). Role of Women in Saudi Arabian Society (1) – SAMIRAD (Saudi Arabia Market Information Resource). [online] Retrieved from: http://www.saudinf.com/main/h61.htm [Accessed: 18 Mar 2014].

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