Our ancient culture, of which I am very proud, is renowned for its nobility and generosity, but we lack, and urgently need, fundamental civil laws with which to govern our society.
As a daughter, sister, (former) wife, mother, businesswoman and a working journalist, these are the things that I would like to see changed in Saudi Arabia.
1. ConstitutionI would like to see a proper constitution that treats all men and women on an equal footing before the law but that also serves as a guide to our civil laws and political culture.
For example, today in Saudi courts, all decisions are made according to the individual judge's interpretation of the holy Koran. This is entirely dependent on his own personal beliefs and upbringing rather than universally agreed principles or a written constitution as a guide.
I am not calling for a western system but an adaptation of that system to suit our needs and culture. Thus our constitution should be inspired by the philosophy of the Koran with principles that are set in stone and not open to the whims of individual judges as is the case now.
In particular, the constitution should protect every citizen's basic human rights regardless of their sex, status or sect. Everyone should be equal before the law.
2. Divorce laws
End QuoteOur religion should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings”
Another way to keep a woman in the marital home against her will is the automatic granting of custody of any children over the age of six to the father in any divorce settlements.
This state of affairs is in complete contradiction to the Koran, upon which our laws are supposed to be based. In it a woman is given full rights to divorce simply in the case of "irreconcilable differences".
3. Overhaul of the education system
An insular kingdom
- Established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz
- One of the most devout and insular countries in the Middle East
- The royal family is 15,000 strong
- The Al Saud dynasty holds a monopoly of power; political parties are banned
- Saudi women live a restricted life and are banned from driving
- The country includes the Hijaz region - the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the cradle of Islam
- Saudi Arabia sits on more than 25% of the world's known oil reserves
Aside from that, the focus in most of our educational system is on religious subjects such as hadith (sayings attributed to the prophet), Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), tafssir (interpretation of the Koran) and of course the Koran. The attitude is that "learning itself, anything other than religion won't get you into heaven so don't waste your time". I would like to see religious teaching limited to the Koran and the Sunna (the way the prophet lived), where the true ethics of Islam lie. The rest is blind rote learning of the most dangerous kind. It has left our youth vulnerable to fundamentalist ideologies that have led to terrorism and abuse of the true meaning of the Koran.
Instead of wasting our youths' intellect on memorising quotations whose origins is uncertain (such as those found in hadith, Fiqh and tafssir) we need to encourage them to think freely, innovate and use their initiative for the betterment of our society. Early Islam was a time of great creativity. Scholars excelled in sciences and literature. Our religion should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings. This is the true spirit of Islam.
4. A complete reform of social servicesThe ministry of social affairs is tolerating cruelty towards women rather than protecting them. The only refuge homes that abused women can turn to are state ones. In these, women are continuously told that by seeking refuge they have brought shame on their families.
What do you think?
- Do you live in Saudi Arabia?
- Send us your views on the princess's comments, using the form at the bottom of the page
- A selection will be published
The ministry of social affairs not only abuses women's rights but is also one of the reasons poverty is rife in the kingdom. A corrupt system that lacks transparency has meant that more than 50% of our population is poor and needy even though we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth.
5. The role of the Mahram (chaperone)Women in Saudi cannot get around or travel without a mahram (a kind of chaperone - usually a male relative).
At the time of the prophet, women used to have a man to accompany them but in those days Arabia was a desert literally full of pirates.
Today the only purpose of such a law is to curtail women's freedom of movement. This not only infantilises women but turns them unnecessarily into a burden on their men and on society.
Today women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive.
- Youngest daughter of the country's second king and niece to its current ruler
- Educated in Britain and Switzerland
- Lives in Acton, London
- Princess Basma, pictured above pointing to her place in the Saudi family tree, was interviewed by Outlook on the BBC World Service
This is why I am against women driving until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us from such madness. Otherwise we might as well hand out a licence to the extremists to abuse us further. If as drivers we get harassed, they will say to the Islamic world "see what happens when women drive, they get harassed they get beaten" and they will call for even more stringent laws to control women. This is something we can't afford. Fundamental changes in the law and its attitude to women are needed before we take this step.
On the whole it is the rights and freedoms of all citizens that are crucial in Saudi Arabia and from those the rights of women will emanate.
Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service.