By Catherine Bekunda and Henry Mukasa
PARLIAMENT has passed a motion congratulating the government and women of Saudi Arabia upon being granted a right to vote.
The motion was moved by Oyam South Legislator Betty Amongi who recognised that gender roles in Saudi Arabia is regulated by Sharia (Islamic law) and tribal culture with strict adherence to a version of Islamic law that enforces the segregation of the sexes.
“Women in Saudi Arabia don’t enjoy even simple rights such as driving a car and voting for their leaders. To access medical care one has to be with a male guardian,” she told MPs.
She called up on the Saudi Government to work towards granting the women full fundamental rights and freedoms as embedded in various United Nations Conventions.
“I encourage the women and the people of Saudi Arabia to continue with the struggle aimed at the attainment of all their fundamental rights,” Amongi said.
She congratulated the women in the Arab world for their active participation in the Arab Spring Uprisings that have occasioned democratic reforms in formerly absolute autocracies.
King Abdullah II recently embraced reforms and in consultation with senior clerics decided to involve women in Majlis Al-Shura Council as members and granted women the right to vote and run as candidates in the municipal elections. However women will not vote until the next round of elections expected to take place in 2015.
Majlis Al-Shura is a consultative council that advises the monarchy on matters of public policy but avoids matters of royal prerogative, like where the nation’s oil revenue goes.
Saudi women are legally subject to male guardians for almost any public activity including visiting the hospital and going to the supermarket.
Winfred Kiiza (Kasese) said in a country where men are allowed to marry up to four women, this was a great injustice to women. “What if the man is with another woman? The rest are put under preventive arrest of some kind because they cannot do anything without the man escorting them,” she noted.
Jesicca Ababiku (Adjumani) who seconded the motion noted that since the unification of Saudi Arabia in 1932, “it has been a long struggle for our own fellow women.”
She called for the granting of women their total independence and including them as stakeholders in governance.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said as members of the Inter Parliamentary Union, they exerted pressure on Saudi Arabia whenever the male representatives would come for the meetings.
“We always asked them for their female representatives and we went ahead to reduce their voting rights until they had female MPs,” she revealed.
Latif Ssebagala (Kawempe North) was the only one who opposed the motion saying it would be an embarrassment to the Saudi government.
“Sharia law can’t be compared to secular law. It has its dos and don’ts. It may be an embarrassment to the Saudi Arabian government and I will not support,” he said. Ssebagala added that escorting women to every public place is a sign of dignity and love.
“Here in Uganda mothers go alone to hospitals but the men in Saudi Arabia do that as a sign of love,” He said.
Mohammed Nsereko (Kampala Central) explained that the French revolution (1789) ushered in the three important freedoms of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality.
“Saudi Arabia cannot be left standing alone. Even though they are governed by the Koran, but the Holy book says that reason has to prevail,” he said.
Nsereko said the Arab countries have been using “arrogance of money to supress women’s rights and demands.”
“You may sit on a charcoal stove for some time but the frames will come and burn you. You may be forced to jump off in the end,” he said referring to the changes embraced by the Kingdom.
Kakoba Onyango (Buikwe North) said granting women a right to vote was long overdue. “Other countries should emulate their example and enhance the freedom of women even in Africa,” he said.
Hood Katuramu (PWD) said most of these countries had delayed granting women their rights for fear of eroding their culture.
Christine Bako (Arua) said it was a historic moment of for the women while James Akena (Lira Municipality) congratulated the women for leading their own struggle. He congratulated Susan Muwonge the national Rally Champion.
“I want to inform the Saudis that in Uganda, women not only drive cars but drive them extremely well and faster than men,” Akena said.
Hassan Fungaroo (Obongi) noted that sharia law was not a bad law and urged governments to copy the good in it and incorporate it with the good from secular law.
Deputy Leader of Government Business Moses Ali urged parliamentarians to educate themselves about Sharia law.
“We need democracy with knowledge. This is the year of technology you must learn a lot about sharia law. Because of sharia law, the rate of HIV/AIDS in Saudi Arabia is almost zero,” he said.
He urged Ugandan men to be faithful to their wives.