CIB Saudi Arabia Analyst Antigua Clyburn spent much of 2017 researching the development of women’s rights in the Kingdom. In April of this year, she concluded her analytical assessment with the following paragraph: “With the help of social and news media, issues such as the right to drive and male guardianship in Saudi Arabia are expected to stay in the forefront. It can be stated with moderate-high confidence that women will gain more rights in Saudi Arabia in 2017”. The senior Intelligence and National Security Studies major and Geographic Information Systems minor from Sumter, South Carolina, was spot on in her prediction. In September, a royal decree lifted the ban on women drivers in the conservative Sunni state. The move was a surprise to many, but not to Antigua, a longtime CIB member and co-founder, as well as Executive Officer on Diversity, for Women in Intelligence and National Security. We spoke with her about her reaction to the news from the Kingdom.
Q: You spent several months examining in real time the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. What was the most interesting thing you found out in your research?
A: The most interesting thing that I found out in my research was the divide between women in Saudi Arabia who were absolutely against male guardianship, and those who were either content or satisfied with it. I was initially under the impression that just about every woman in Saudi Arabia viewed male guardianship as negative and supported ending it. After extensive research into the topic, however, I realized that since it is such a deep-seated cultural norm based on class divisions in the Kingdom, not all women are affected by it in the same way. Additionally, many feel that there is an issue with the way those laws are implemented, but then again, some women do not feel the same. It has to be understood that this has been the norm for a plethora of years.
Q: A few weeks ago, a royal decree signed by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered that women would be now be able to drive cars. Many were surprised by that decree, but you seem to have anticipated it. How did you do that?
A: While researching the topic, I saw countless women continuing to respectfully protest the driving ban each day. I say respectfully because these women were protesting this ban in such a way as to ensure that they were not disrespecting their religion and culture at the same time. The protests included marches, seminars, and even video footage of women driving vehicles. The high volume of social media support for these women, from Saudi Arabia and abroad, definitely boosted my level of confidence in the matter. The passion that these women showed during the protests most certainly contributed to the surety of my prediction that things would change, and that they would gain more rights by the latter half of this year.
Q: What do you think that we can expect to see in the future on the subject of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?
A: Lifting the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia is already a massive step in the direction of more rights. Keep in mind that the ban was one of the longest standing laws in that country, so I think it is a telling sign that the voices of these women are being heard. Putting this topic in a broader context, it makes me feel that no law or rule is too big to tailor. I believe that if these women (and men) continue to confront these issues and keep that same energy and determination that we have seen so far, we will definitely be seeing more changes in Saudi Arabia in the near future.