Riyadh ,March 19 (DhakaTribune): It was an encouraging initiative for a country not known for giving women a platform in public life. But when Saudi Arabia wanted to show off its inaugural girls’ council in al-Qassim province, they overlooked one thing- the women
Saudi Arabia launched its first ever girls’ council meeting with publicity photos showing 13 men on stage and no women. Women attending the inaugural Qassim Girls Council meeting were apparently in another room, linked via video, the BBC reported.
The ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom has a state policy of gender segregation between unrelated men and women.
The male-dominated photos have been circulating widely on social media, after the meeting took place on Saturday. It has been compared to another viral hit, an image of US President Donald Trump, surrounded by men, signing an abortion policy in January.
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.
In Saudi Arabia, the segregation between unrelated men and women is rigorously enforced. But the country may be moving toward loosening some of its rules as part of its Vision 2030 programme. Its goals included increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.
Last month, Saudi Arabia celebrated its first ever Women’s Day.
In his speech to launch the girls’ council, Prince Faisal said women make up half of society, although looking at that picture, you would not know it.
A three-day gathering in the capital of Riyadh featured speakers who argued for women’s rights to drive and called for an end to the country’s male guardianship system.
The kingdom has been heavily criticized for its record on women’s rights, where women are severely restricted.
The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 134 out of 145 countries for gender equality. It is the only country in the world where women are prohibited from driving and are unable to obtain a driving licence.
There is also a law stating that all women must have a male guardian, typically a husband, father or brother, who gives them permission to study, travel abroad or marry.
(The featured picture shows a meeting of Saudi Arabia’s Girls’ Council)