Saudi women are not just desperate housewives

All-female medical team of Saudi women sends message to the West.

Saudi women 370 (photo credit: Courtesy The Media Line)
Saudi women 370
(photo credit: Courtesy The Media Line)
Two days ago, an all-female Saudi medical team at El-Damam Hospital of Obstetrics successfully performed a laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy' (LAVH) on a 47-year-old cancer patient.
"This surgery is the first of its kind in the Eastern part of the kingdom and in national hospitals of the kingdom," said Doctor Salma Mohammed El-Elawy, leader of the medical team who performed the operation.
Hysterectomy is a major surgical procedure and is performed under general anesthesia; the gynecologist uses keyhole surgery in combination with surgery through the vagina in order to complete the operation. This operation is said to have clear advantages over abdominal surgery including fewer complications, shorter hospital stays and shorter healing time.
El-Elway said that the medical team included three female doctors and two female nurses.
Though we don't know the main reason behind choosing an all-female team to perform this surgery, the important point is that Saudi women are not just desperate housewives, as many westerners think.
In a 2011 editorial by the New York Times, entitled, ''Saudi Arabia and its Women'', the newspaper says, ''The list of fundamental rights … denied to Saudi women is long and shameful. Men — their fathers or husbands — control whether they can travel, work, receive health care, attend school or start a business.
This reflects an old western view stated by Patricia Adora and Clark Tylor in their book, Unveiling: A Desert Journey, 1973-1983 about Saudi women. Crucially, the authors said, ''When I look to Saudi women, I think of the old Chinese custom of binding women's feet in order to render them helpless. Surely, Saudi is one of the last countries set on stunting women's growth by keeping them under a stifling religious law that prevents them from being equals with men.''
It is a view that is still being echoed by many western authors. For example, in a chapter entitled ''The special world of Saudi women'' inside their 2003 book, Cultures of the World: Saudi Arabia, Hunt Jinin and Margret Baseer said, "The socially preferred role for Saudi women is to be in the home. They are strongly encouraged to be wives, mothers, and homemakers."
Dr. Hend Majid Al-Kuthaili, a professor at King Saud University and a well-known writer, is quoted in Saudi Arabia: A Modern Reader as saying, "[I am] proud of the progress Saudi women have made, but [I am] dismayed that their image in the West remains mired in stereotypes of the past. They think we are 'oppressed' by our culture! It's not true. We can do anything!"
Many people in the west try to frame matters according to their own facts and moral values. For example, this account of an all-female Saudi medical team refutes the claim that Saudi women don't attend school.
Commenting on on the website of the Saudi newspaper Okaz, an anonymous gynecologist said, "Thanks to Allah, I have four years of experience in performing this surgery; I successfully performed it on more than 60 patients, who left the hospital the day of the surgery without any complications; many of my fellow female doctors have also performed this surgery successfully; so what is new in this news?''
In fact, Saudi women are leaders in many fields, not just in medicine. What they need is some positive attention from western media on their stories of success, like this one.
It cannot be denied that Saudi women still have ground to cover in terms of receiving better education and gaining more freedom; but to overlook the progress that has already been made, is unfair.
The writer is an Egyptian artist and a PhD student.