Feb 16 2010
While she did raise the issue of women’s rights in her talk to a Saudi women’s college, none of the women mentioned it and neither did she, unlike Karen Hughes from the Bush Administration who had a spirited debate on the issue five years ago.
JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to young women at a Saudi women’s college here on Tuesday, the site of a spirited exchange five years ago with a female official of the Bush administration over the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.
But despite Mrs. Clinton’s invitation to raise the issue, none of the women in the audience asked her about it. The discussion, while lively, focused on the same foreign-policy and security themes that have dominated her visit to the Persian Gulf, notably Iran and the Middle East peace process.
Mrs. Clinton said she wanted to hear the views of the students on women’s rights, noting that “American media presents a very unidimensional portrayal of Saudi women,” focusing on the black veils most wear.
She called for women to get better access to education and to play a bigger role in society. But she avoided criticism of Saudi Arabia, instead praising King Abdullah for his support of coeducational and women’s-only institutions, like the one that played host to her visit, Dar al-Hekman College. (That’s funny, there are Saudi women, like the journalist in the video below who have a lot to fear by speaking out against Saudi male oppression of women, yet they speak out anyway. I guess Clinton was warned by the Muslim POTUS not to stir up any controversy. At least she didn’t bow to the King)
None of the students picked up on Mrs. Clinton’s observation about how the American media portrays Saudi women, which had been a point of contention when Karen Hughes, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy in Bush administration, visited this college in 2005.
In that session, Ms. Hughes raised the hackles of some in the audience when she said the image of Saudi Arabia in the United States had been tarnished by the country’s refusal to allow women to drive.
On Tuesday, the students responded enthusiastically to Mrs. Clinton, though afterward, some expressed confusion about why women’s rights did not come up, given Mrs. Clinton’s iconic status.
“Maybe because it was Hillary Clinton, people wanted to ask her about issues bigger than whether Saudi women can drive,” said Duaa Badr, 18, a freshman management student from Jidda. She noted that many young women wanted to ask questions, but did not get a chance. The college appeared to exert tight control over who was handed a microphone. NY TIMES
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