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Need for gender equality

Khalid Alnowaiser | Arab News

Equality for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still one of the most difficult and complex issues to be discussed. Although everyone has the freedom to talk about all matters of life freely and easily (no matter how sensitive the issue may be), the subject of womens rights is entirely different and always needs to be considered carefully. Ignoring a frank and honest debate on this very important subject, though, has led to the exclusion of women from playing an active and effective role in the development of Saudi Arabia, especially when women comprise half of society. It is undisputed that a womans status in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not very enviable. Due to ingrained cultural traditions, Saudi women are not treated equally with men, and this is acting as a major impediment to the Kingdoms development plans. As a consequence, confusion and chaos have ensued, so that it has become very difficult to distinguish between what is religiously mandated and what is required due to Saudi social customs and traditions. The Islamic religion clearly appreciates women and their role in life and work. Indeed, Islam does not advocate the old rigid social customs and obsolete traditions that relegated women to the status of second-class citizens. Unfortunately, customs and past practices purporting to be based on Islam have actually distorted the Muslim faith throughout the world. In reality, Islam treats men and women as equal in many things. As the Quran says, O mankind! We created you all from male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). What we can understand from this verse is that women and men are equal in everything, and the only thing that can differentiate them is piety in Allah. In fact, a fair reading of the Quran and Hadith proves that the problem is not with Islam, but it is in cultural stereotypes that have dominated the Saudi society for decades. The absence of a clear boundary between religious and secular thinking has led to the exploitation of the wrong habits and traditions by men and, by extension, the entire society. Although purporting to be based on Islam, men have used Islam as a tool to belittle the role of women in Saudi society. THE strange thing is that men thought that by marginalizing and repressing women, they would elevate their status in society, when in reality all it does is increase their duties and burdens in life. Men have become solely responsible for all these challenges, when they are actually in need of assistance and contributions from women. As a consequence, the development of this maledominated society has resulted in an unfortunate increase in the number of divorce cases, immorality, domestic violence, mental illness and greater health problems among men. In Saudi Arabia today, women are still suffering from the rigid constraints society has placed upon them, where men can control them physically, psychologically, and mentally. For example, a woman is limited to a narrow range of jobs, which she is allowed to perform, in spite of substantial efforts the government of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has instituted to expand employment opportunities for women. EVEN though women work, they are still isolated and controlled in all their actions and behavior by men, and Saudi society remains divided into two categories in sharp contrast to all other societies in the world, male and female, although Islam has neither excluded nor restricted women from work.

Gender equality and development

Investments in women's and girls' education and health lead to reduced rates of maternal mortality, better educated and healthier children and increased household incomes. Photo: Hans Stakelbeek/FMAX

Why gender equality and the empowerment of women is important


Gender equality is central to economic and human development in a country. Removing inequalities gives societies a better chance to develop. When women and men have relative equality, economies grow faster, children's health improves and there is less corruption. Gender equality is an important human right. While gains have been made, gender inequalities are still striking given that:

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two-thirds of the 800 million people in the world who lack basic literacy skills are female women hold an average of three per cent of seats in national parliaments in Pacific island countries, and an average of 19 per cent of seats in East Asia half a million women die each year from complications during pregnancy99 per cent of them in developing countries. globally 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical and sexual violence with rates as high as 2 in 3 in some Pacific countries

Australias aid program aims to help promote gender equality and empower women in partner countries. This is the goal of Millennium Development Goal 3, and is also central to the achievement of all the other MDGs. Investments in women's and girls' education and health yield some of the highest returns of all development investments, including reduced rates of maternal mortality, better educated and healthier children and increased household incomes. Australias approach to achieving gender equality extends beyond improving female health and education. It means access to economic resources, participation and leadership in decision making, and respect for the human rights of women, including the right to a life free of violence. Australia promotes a range of activities to advance gender equality in the aid program.

Recent achievements
Women are given economic opportunities with the support of Australia
In Nepal, more women have secured a livelihood and can participate in economic life. In the 12 months to June 2009, Australian support through the United Nations Development Programs Micro Enterprise Development Program helped 5,288 women to set up new businesses. These new micro-entrepreneurs employed 5,426 women workers.

Australia has helped more girls attend school


In Bangladesh, Australia has helped more children to attend school. More than 700,000 students, particularly girls who have never enrolled or who have dropped out of mainstream schools, were given the opportunity of an education in the year to June 2009.

Australian support is helping more women take on leadership roles in government, business, schools and within their community
In Papua New Guinea, during 2009, 330 district women's facilitators were trained who will support school boards and their local communities, covering most of the 3,000 primary schools in the country. In Iraq, women have better access to services and skills to earn an income. In 2008-09, four new womens community centres supported by Australia, provided women with safe access to health and social services, leadership and literacy training, and income generating activities.

Australia has helped women who were subjected to violence


In Fiji, Australian support has helped give women who have been subjected to violence somewhere to go to get help. During 2009, the Fiji Womens Crisis Centre (FWCC) in Suva and its three district branches provided counselling and support services to 1,802 women who had been subjected to violence. More information about how Australia is responding to violence against women:

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16 Days of Activism 2010 16 Days of Activism 2009 Preventing Sexual Violence in ConflictInventory of Peacekeeping Practice Helping Women to Stay SafeAddressing Violence Against Women in Melanesia and East Timor [PDF 96kb]

Australia is improving the health and wellbeing of women and children


In Kiribati, women and children living in remote areas are healthier. In 200809 over 3,000 women and children on the outer islands of Kiribati gained better access to health care through a joint Australia, United Nations Population Fund and the European Union assisted program. In Nepal, fewer children die due to Vitamin A deficiency. During 200809, 3.7 million boys and girls aged between 6 months and 5 years old were provided high-dose vitamin A preventing the deaths of more than

15,000 children. In Ethiopia, Australia has long supported the work of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, founded by Australian Catherine Hamlin. The hospital provides about 3,000 services per year to expectant mothers with access to trained midwives and health services and to extend such services, its midwifery college is providing training for young women. In Papua New Guinea, Australian support is assisting women living with HIV/AIDS. A National Gender Policy and Plan on HIV and AIDS (2006-2010), was developed providing policy makers and health workers with a tool to help them respond in a practical way to the many economic, social, legal, political and cultural disadvantages women with HIV/AIDS face. More information about how Australia is helping to improve the health of women and children:

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Foreign Minister presents Australia's Statement to United Nations MDG Summit Saving the lives of women and children [PDF 162kb]

Women and children have better access to clean water In East Timor, women and their children have better access to clean water. In 2008-09, approximately 20,000 people (mostly women and children) benefited from better access to drinking water through AusAID support. Other ways Australia is addressing gender equality:

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Gender and adaptation to climate change Integrating gender equality in the Solomon Islands program

More information
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10 years of supporting women, peace and security Women, Peace and Security: AusAID's implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 Promoting Gender Equality through the Millennium Development Goals Stop Violence: Responding to Violence Against Women in Melanesia and East Timor Gender equality in Australia's aid programwhy and how Gender equalityResources and guidelines Publications and media releases

Related websites
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Asian Development Bank (ADB) Gender and Development Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) ELDIS Gender Resource Guide

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International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) Office for Women Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Gender Equality Site Siyandaonline database of Gender and Development materials United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) UN Women WomenWatch World Bank Gender and Development

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Unfortunately, male control of women has caused the latter to be ignorant of their rights such as the rights to marry, divorce, dowry, custody, inheritance, travel, and a right to drive. It is absurd that Saudi women still cannot operate a motor vehicle without employing foreign drivers to drive for them. They have also been prevented from working as sales girls even in shops selling their clothes, while men are permitted to do so. What is the rationale for such a contradiction? Is there any reason other than to keep men and women entirely separate culturally? Certainly, most Saudi women believe that allowing women to drive a car is not among the most important rights, but the lack of decisive action to resolve this issue and allow half of Saudi society to freely move around the country is disappointing. This issue deserves immediate attention and quick resolution by the government. There is no doubt that outmoded customs making women subservient to men in the Kingdom has dominated Saudi society and allowed men to exploit this inequality in order to control women, confiscate their rights, destroy their self-esteem, and kill their pride as human beings entitled to equal rights and opportunities. So what is the solution to this problem that threatens to destroy the future progress of Saudi Arabia? First, no solution will be achieved without the full participation of women, and the Kingdom is no different from any other country that strives to become more civilized and to march forward as a society. Therefore, it is now time to create a special independent body composed of women to discuss ways of helping women to live, work, and express their opinions as fully as men. This body would strive to spread a culture of womens rights, defend and assist the appropriate authorities to regulate and create laws to ensure womens rights are preserved, and protect all legal, civil, social, and family rights. It is up to each one of us to push for Saudi women to be treated equally with men in all aspects of the functioning of our society. The establishment of a body charged with this responsibility is an indispensable first step.

Gender Equality in India will remain a pipe dream without woman's participation in politics.
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Have a little read: ... Gender Equality in India will remain a pipe dream without woman's participation in
politics "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world But, in India let the truth be told This hand is often sold And the man is invariably in control" Respected judges ladies and gentlemen, Gender equality is the position of women in society in terms of rights and obligations in the sociological sense, and their role in relation to men. An added dimension could be the degree of actual control women have over their lives and the extent to which they have access to the decision making process. I believe that although progress has been made towards achieving this goal Gender Equality in India will remain a distant dream. The main reason for this is that women continue to be grossly underrepresented in the political process In the land of 'Bharat Matha' we are faced with the sad plight where