Film hailing Saudi progress on women's rights branded 'dreadful propaganda'
Global development Women's rights and gender equality Film hailing Saudi progress on women's rights branded 'dreadful propaganda'
Footage of women using wingsuits fails to take off as critics condemn strapline suggesting great women are supported by men
A film intended to celebrate progress on womenâs rights in Saudi Arabia has been condemned by experts and rights groups as a âdreadful piece of propagandaâ that will serve only to reinforce the existing culture of discrimination in the country.< p>Launched by the Saudi-based organisation Alwaleed Philanthropies, one of the worldâs largest private philanthropic foundations, the film aims to highlight reforms in the deeply conservative state, where women can now attend sports events and will soon be able to drive cars.
It shows a woman being encouraged by a man to drive a car, as well as a woman in traditional Abaya being urged by a man to take a wingsuit flight â" similar to skydiving â" off a cliff.
But the tone of the footage â" which shows men urging women to follow their dreams and culminates with the tag line: âNext to every great woman, a man believing in herâ â" has been criticised as patronising and discriminatory.
Dr Madawi al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the London School of Economicsâ Middle East Centre, questioned the commercial value of the film and branded it a âdreadful piece of propagandaâ that showed only women dependent on men.
âMy first reaction was this i s a terrible campaign for Toyoto jeeps â" it would not appeal to Saudi women who want to drive through the street of Riadh to get to work,â said al-Rasheed. âIt focuses on women protected by a man.
âBut there are a high percentage â" millions â" of women in Saudi Arabia who are unmarried, widows and those who choose not to marry.â
Both men and women in Saudi Arabia are patronised and deprived of basic human rights, said al-Rasheed, âbut women suffer double the discrimination. They are not legal citizens.â
The campaign seemed to be promoting the idea of equality in Saudi Arabia to the outside world, she said.
A UN rights watchdog that has welcomed recent decisions on driving and allowing women to launch their own businesses said last month that, if discrimination against women is to end, Saudi Arabia must abolish its pervasive system of male guardianship and give women access to justice.
The UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women said the state should enforce a recent order that would entitle all women to obtain a passport, travel or study abroad, choose their residency, and access healthcare âwithout having to seek their guardianâs consentâ.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East and North African consultant for Equality Now, said: âThis film is not accurate, it is not fair and it is not just. Of course, we should recognise the role of men in supporting womenâs rights. But it should not be the core of the film.
âWe know in Saudi Arabia, women are very restricted according to their families, their culture, religious beliefs and according to the system. Their basic rights are denied. They canât take a courageous stance towards the liberation of women. They canât transcend that reality.â
Alwaleed Philanthropies said the film, which is headed by the Saudi princess Lamia bint Majed al Saud, was inspired by UN Womenâs #HeForShe campaign. Its launch coincided with a wider debate in Saudi Arabia about whether the end of the driving ban signalled the start of more wholesale reforms.
The princess told the Guardian she hoped the campaign, dedicated to men and women, would challenge stereotypes. âWe want to celebrate the generations of Saudi women who have pioneered change, as well as the Saudi men who have supported them in their pursuit of empowerment â" this campaign is first and foremost dedicated to those local heroes,â she said.
âBut we also want to reach an international audience in order to challenge some stereotypes of Saudi women as being oppressed and Saudi men as oppressors. We want to highlight the role that many Saudi men have played as supportive allies in this journey, and encourage more to do the same.
Asked whether she believed the lifting of the driving ban was the prelude to greater equality, she said it was âa step in the right directionâ.
âLasting change cannot be delivered overnight, but women are securing more and more opportunities to be independent and to be empowered within the kingdom. For many people within Saudi Arabia and across the world, the driving ban was symbolic of Saudi womenâs lack of freedom. Lifting the ban will have huge practical implications for how Saudi women live and work, but it is also a clear sign from our leadership that as a society we are ready to move forward and modernise.â
She said the inclusion of sky divin g was to challenge stereotypes of a woman dressed in her Abaya and also to âemphasise the message that the sky is the limit for Saudi women, especially when everyone in society works togetherâ.
Abu-Dayyeh, who works with civil society groups all over the Middle East to promote womenâs rights, said that while she welcomed progress made by the Saudi government, it was âvery far awayâ from gender equality.Saudi women strive to bring male guardians to a Twitter end Read more
Abu-Dayyeh said: âWe have well-established civil society groups in Jordan and Lebanon. But there are no civil society organisations in Saudi Arabia. We have courageous female activists who are working separately, often to great cost. If we are talking about the battle for womenâs rights in the region, we need to double that fight in Saudi Arabia.â
Civil society does not exist in the kingdom.
Sama Awaida, director of the womenâs study centre in Palestine, said the film was sending out the wrong message.
âI donât understand how it can be about womenâs empowerment,â said Awaida. âWomenâs empowerment is a long struggle, but it is about empowering women to be independent of men, not dependent on men.âTopics
- Global development
- Women's rights and gender equality
- Middle East and North Africa
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