The minute you hear Saudi Arabia, a celebration honouring women is surely not one of the first things that comes to one’s mind. The conservative Islamic kingdom ranks 134 out of 145 countries in terms of gender equality, to no one’s surprise. What is a pleasant surprise however is that the country celebrated their first ever Women’s Day. Yes, we know it’s not the one the world celebrates since that is still more than a month away, Saudi Arabia has honoured women in their own version of the same.
In a three-day gathering held at the King Fahd Cultural Centre in the capital of Riyadh, the event featured speakers who argued for women’s rights to drive and demanded an end to the country’s male guardianship system.The event was also attended by female members of the royal family along with Princess Al-Jawhara bint Fahd Al-Saud, who hosted a discussion on women’s roles in education.
Saudi has always been criticized for their stand on women’s rights and for their severe restrictions on women. A spokesman for the centre said that they are looking to celebrate the Saudi woman and her successful role. He also wants to remind people of her achievements in education, culture, medicine, literature and other areas. The kingdom is preparing to begin several cultural and economic reforms, known as Vision 2030.
A Human Rights Watch report on male guardianship found that a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death in Saudi Arabia, and their ability to pursue a career or make life decisions is restricted. Reforms have been attempted in the kingdom but have faced too many hurdles and usually not been successful. It remains the only country where women are unable to attain a driving licence and are prohibited from driving. Here’s hoping this move helps Saudi Arabia move out of its ultra conservative mode and makes it more friendly for women.