Concerned about the oppression of women in Islamic societies in general and Saudi Arabia in particular? Don’t be: Oprah is making it all better.
Of course, the “identification with Western values” among Saudi women reported here is nothing new. The stories are legion of their shedding their black abayas on airplanes once out of Saudi airspace, and donning the latest fashions. The only difference here is that King Abdullah is supposedly going to ratify and legalize some of this liberalization. Why, he may even allow women to drive! How modern! How tolerant! Can Saudi churches and synagogues be far behind? (Yes, quite far.)
“Oprah inspires Saudi women to look to west,” from the TimesOnline, with thanks to Interested:
THE women of Saudi Arabia have a new heroine in their struggle for emancipation “” Oprah Winfrey, the American chat show host.
In a country where satellite television is banned “” yet nine out of 10 households have a dish “” MBC, a Middle Eastern channel, has discovered that ratings for the Oprah show are the highest of any English-language programme it broadcasts in the kingdom.
To cater for the demand, MBC is showing Oprah twice a day, five days a week, as it goes after its target audience of 18 to 25-year-olds. Women under 25 make up a third of Saudi Arabia’s 26m population.
The popularity of Oprah reflects an increasing identification with western values and culture that is slowly becoming evident in other areas of women’s lives. Gone are the days when women would only be seen outside in their black abayas. The younger generation are now to be found buying clothes at franchises such as Saks Fifth Avenue and sipping cappuccinos at Starbucks. They discuss Oprah, Erica Jong, Harry Potter and even Sex and the City, available uncensored on the satellite channel HBO.
In more formal areas of life there are advances, too. For the first time, two women “” Dr Lama al-Suleiman, a graduate of Kings College London, and Nashwa Taher “” have been voted on to the board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. A recent report by a marketing group, the TNS Female Research Centre, concluded that women were looking to come out of their shells, encouraged by their peers in Kuwait, who have won the right to vote.
The cabinet of King Abdullah last month approved a development plan calling for a bigger economic role for women that would remove “the obstacles hindering their participation in the economic and development activities”.
Abdullah has said he is committed to improving the lives of women, who are not permitted to drive cars and need a male relative’s permission to travel abroad or attend university.
“I believe the day will come when women drive,” he told ABC in an interview.
But all is not rosy:
The Oprah show has caused controversy in Saudi Arabia, after it broadcast an interview with Rania al-Baz, a Saudi TV presenter who was nearly beaten to death by her husband.
“Thank God we live in America,” was Winfrey”s comment “” which prompted an avalanche of criticism. “Yes, we have domestic abuse. Yes, there are unsavoury elements in our society. Yes, there are women and children who have been subjected to mental and physical torture,” wrote Lubna Hussain, a popular women’s commentator. “But no, this does not define us as a society.”