Saudi Arabia is not a great place for women’s rights, but in their own way the country is trying. In February, the country celebrated it’s first-ever Women’s Day, attended by female members of the Royal Family. This week, they unveiled the inaugural “Girl’s Council” in al-Qassim province, but the female members of the council weren’t allowed to attend the gathering.
— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) March 13, 2017
Pictures released to mark the first Qassim Girls Council meeting showed 13 men on stage, and not a single female. The women were apparently in another room, linked via video.
The Saudi launch was led by Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud, the province’s governor, who said he was proud of the conference and it was the first of its kind in the kingdom.
“In the Qassim region, we look at women as sisters to men, and we feel a responsibility to open up more and more opportunities that will serve the work of women and girls,” he said.
The girls’ council is chaired by Princess Abir bint Salman, his wife, who was not in the photograph.
Still, things are still very bad on the gender equality front in Saudi Arabia. In December a woman was arrested after she posted a picture of herself on Twitter standing outside in Saudi Arabia without a hijab, or head-covering, or an abaya, a body-covering garment arguably more important than the hijab in terms of “modesty.” A Twitter user noted the comments in reply to her photo called for her to be physically harmed or killed.
There are number of oppressive laws in the country targeting women. Along with the dress code for women, it is illegal in Saudi Arabia for them to drive a car, compete in sports, swim, or even try on clothing when shopping. It’s a formal policy of male guardianship, so these women are–in the eyes of the law–the property of their fathers or husbands.
The “World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia near the bottom in its 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, with the country falling at 134 out of 145 countries,” Fortune reported in 2016. It might have even been lower, but women won the right to vote and run for office for the first time in 2015. This political inclusion has led to campaigns urging to end guardianship and make it legal for women to drive.
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Featured image via screengrab