Manama: Saudi women who refused to leave a hall where men were seated at a literary club have defended their action as “the right thing to do”.
A group of conservative man who wanted to attend the “Saudi Elite and Alienation Issues” lecture this week at the Jeddah Literary Club protested against the presence of women in the same room as men and threatened to leave if they were not moved to another room.
However, the women refused to move room and insisted on remaining in the main hall to listen to the lecture.
“What happened was not right and cannot be tolerated,” Dr Amira Kashgari, a club member who was at the lecture, said. “We were surprised by the group of men who walked into the main hall. I think that they came in just to provoke another of their imaginary battles. The women who were at the hall are well known literary figures and intellectuals and nobody had the right to tell them to move out,” she said, quoted by local Arabic daily Al Sharq on Thursday.
She said that the women were pained when the lecturer came over and requested them to move to another hall.
“He had no right whatsoever to make the request,” Amira said. “The women had a brave and strong stance. One of them told him to go and speak with her father who was sitting at the front,” she said.
No exclusion policy
The club’s literary and cultural activities are open to all people without bias and discrimination, she said.
“The club does not support an exclusion policy and does not monopolise views. Those who do not wish to see women in the club hall should simply leave and look for alternatives elsewhere,” she said. “The active participation of women in cultural activities is moving forward smoothly and should not be stalled by anyone nor should anyone meddle in their cultural and social activities,” she said.
Fatima Ilyas said that she had expected the attitude by the conservatives.
“I was really pleased with the reaction of the club chairman who refused to cater to the demands that we leave,” she said. “We are aware of course that there is tension between conservative groups and cultural institutions. I do wonder though about the reasons that make these men afraid of the presence of women. I believe that these people have a phobia of women,” she told Al Sharq.
For the club board member, those who do not appreciate the presence of women in the club should go to places where there are only men.
“Women were really upset and disturbed about the incident, especially that they are classy women and strongly believe in their right to be wherever they want at the club. If a woman does not feel comfortable in the main hall where men are also seated, she can go to a separate room for women. It is a matter of free choice. The club is not a bastion form men. Those who want to exclude or expel women should go to their own bastions,” she said.
Saudi women and their supporters have been engaged in an uphill struggle to assert their rights in various sectors.