GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Women in office as reflection of political identity construction
Paper Proposal Text :
The discourse on gender dynamics, in public and private spheres, intensified around grass roots, social media campaigns among various social groups in Saudi Arabia since 2010. Clergy, conservatives, youth, women’s rights activists and international community played key roles in shaping this discourse. In all of these movements, the state acted firmly to prevent the passage of dissent from the virtual realm to reality. However, the most interesting tactic was the state’s construction of women identity through the official representations of women citizens. The political representations of women intentionally promote a unique Saudi woman identity. One that is educated, resourceful and loyal to the patriarchal institutions of family, clergy and the ruling family. The recent increase of women public visibility along with the ease of restrictions on dress code and gender-mixing is indicative of the moderate shift in the state religiosity affiliation, mostly in response to the rising militant Islamic ideologies. This paper will explore the shared characteristic of official women and the various political utility that they bring to the existing institutions or to the promotion of gender-equality reforms.
The Royal Advisory Council “Shura council” provides a landscape of “approved’ and promoted political representations. Women appointment served several political goals. One is as trophies of Saudi Arabia’s achievement in women’s rights to education and work. Women also validate the state narrative on the difficulty to accept gender equality in its international definition under the Islamic and cultural norms. Locally, these women who are handpicked from elite spots, serve an important role in reminding the public of the advanced privileged position of women, as scientists and professionals, under the existing political leadership. Appointments also serve as means of promoting a new role of women of a rising political importance. The appointment of a woman sport-entrepreneur in the second cohort of members and the appointment of a woman undersecretary for sports ministry points to that direction. Most important of all is the role of conveying loyalty to the political institution at times of regional unrest with the rising Iranian influence. The last appointment of a woman shite member, who wrote extensively against the shite clerics ideologies and celebrated the excessive security measures enforced by the state is a direct example. Interestingly, the political use of highly-educated women is a double-edged sword. Four women Shura members recently requested to be relieved of their duties for failure to promote meaningful reforms under the restrictive Shura regulations.
The Municipal elections, opened to women for the first time in 2015, provides a similar domain to explore representation. Women activists and writers, who publicly supported the grass roots advocacy campaigns, were disqualified. Women in the chambers of commerce, on the other hand, wee granted more influence. The unique position of these women within a network of political, business and social elites, expedited their progress in reforming restrictive policies. However, their privileges were not extended to remove structural barriers impeding other professional women. Businesswomen are the anomaly and not the norm, when it comes to constructing a national identity for women citizens. their exclusive privilege is also shared with women appointed in foreign missions and not with the general public.
In each of official representation of women, I will attempt to explore the elements of the emerging state-constructed identity of Saudi women.