Women’s rights have regressed since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)," Saudi billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz as claimed in a wide-ranging interview published this weekend.
When asked in a question and answer session with the Saudi Gazette newspaper if he favoured female employees over male employees, the prince said: "Frankly I always side with qualifications regardless of gender. I am trying to be fair to women because their rights are still not fully recognised in our country. Women’s rights have regressed since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In fact they have regressed from what they had been 30 years ago."
The prince added that “Saudi women are capable and creative” and society should “give them a chance in all fields.”
On the hot topic of women driving, the prince said he was in favour of the ban being lifted. “I also demand society to keep away from the culture of opposing women because this opposition is not founded on a Shariah basis. With regard to allowing Saudi women to drive cars, if we view the subject from a religious perspective we will find that it is better to allow women to drive to avoid them mixing with foreign drivers.
“From an economic perspective, it will reduce the burdens on Saudi families. The president of McKinsey & Company, the top international consultancy company, said 1 million drivers would leave the Kingdom if women are allowed to drive. This means that Saudi families will save over SAR1.5 billion ($399 million) a month, or SR18 billion annually considering a driver’s monthly salary is SR1,500. Also, allowing women to drive will reduce unemployment among women. It will give the Saudi man the opportunity to avail the services of his driver.”
In 2011, Prince Alwaleed’s wife, Princess Ameerah Al Taweel, spoke out in support of women lobbying to overturn the kingdom’s ban on female drivers.
Speaking to the Today Show in the US, Princess Ameerah said allowing women to drive is one in a list of reforms that must be addressed in Saudi Arabia.
“We’re fighting for our rights and we are getting them. If we were not getting them, you would not see me talking to you now,” she said.
Asked if she wants to be the first woman to drive legally in the kingdom, she said “Yes. [But] for me, I don’t care if I am the first or the 60th, as long as we drive. It’s a social need but looking at the other side, there are priorities for us women here in Saudi other than driving. We care about laws for women, women in the workforce – basic rights.”
Speaking of his relationship with Princess Ameerah in the interview with Saudi Gazette, Prince Alwaleed confirmed that he had separated from his wife.
“Yes, I announce it through Okaz/Saudi Gazette for the first time. I have officially separated from Princess Ameera Al Taweel, but she remains a person that I have all respect for. She represented the Saudi woman in the best way through her various participations locally, regionally and internationally.
“She was the best ambassador for the Saudi woman. I recall that when I married Amira, I told her that I am a public figure and I requested her to be with me in all my visits because I encourage Saudi women to participate so that nobody comes and says that Alwaleed encourages women to appear in public but he does not implement this conviction himself. She understood this. She used to accompany me in all my trips. Frankly, she was an honourable representative of women through her culture and effective participation. I wish her every success in her life.”
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