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The International Day of the Girl Child really made me think about how women live in different parts of the world. I have been fortunate enough to experience various perspectives related the plight of women in different cultures. I have always been curious about highly male-dominated societies (as opposed to just regular male-dominated societies) like Saudi Arabia.

Women in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has long been condemned by the Western world for their conservative policies that are particularly restrictive on women’s rights. In 2016, the country was rated 141 out of 144 for gender parity. Gender parity is an index used to measure relative access to education for men and women. Reduced access to education translates directly to the workforce. The Saudi workforce is only 13% women.

Source: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images

Though no official law forbids driving, Saudi Arabia observes strict gender segregation under Islamic Law. For years, women were refused driver’s licenses by officials. Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the oil industry dissuades pressure from the international community to modernize laws and many Saudi women are actually resisting gender-inclusive laws. For years, it seemed that these laws would never change.

A Ban Lifted

Then, at the end of September 2017, King Salaman lifted the ban that prohibited women from driving. As an unexpected conclusion to the decades-long civil fight for the right to drive, women in Saudi Arabia were overjoyed. Many had previously believed they would not obtain the right to drive in their lifetime.

Source: Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters

Economic Reasons

Despite the seemingly good intentions of King Salaman, many speculate that the ban was lifted for economic reasons. With dropping oil prices, government jobs are becoming more limited, thus the kingdom is trying to push workers into other fields. This includes women, who are often hold higher degrees than men and are also very hard working! However, without the right to drive, women were required to hire drivers in order to work, which dissuaded many women from finding jobs. The hope is that, with the lift of the ban, more women will be able to find work.

A Step in the Right Direction

It seems like this political action is a huge win for women in Saudi Arabia. Hopefully this move will increase the share of women in the workforce, and send a message that empowers women across the country. Preliminary surveys show that many Saudi men and women have favorable thoughts about lifting the ban, indicating that perhaps the country is heading for more progressive change.

Limitations Remain

However, despite this increase in rights, there are still many limitations to women’s freedoms in Saudi Arabia. The society still observes deeply ingrained gender segregation, which is unlikely to change quickly just because one ban was lifted. There are still many things Saudi women are unable to do, such as go for a swim, compete in sports, or wear certain clothes or makeup. (see longer list here).

What are your thoughts? Have you observed similar social or legal disparities for women? What do you think the outlook is for women in Saudi Arabia? Let us know in the comments section below!

Source: Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters

Xoxo, SpreadLove

Caroline Alberti

Author Caroline Alberti

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