Feminism International Politics

Saudi women are winning at 2018 – but there’s still a lot to be done

They can now drive and go to football matches - but there’s a long way to go

By Priyanka Jethwa

Saudi Arabia has taken its first step into the 21st century, and what a sweet, sweet occasion it is.

The ultra-conservative Muslim country, where women were only granted the right to vote in 2015, has finally conceded to modernize as part of the Crown Prince’s attempt to reform the outdated state (AKA, to try and be not so damn sexist).

Last week, a private company opened the first ever women-only car showroom in preparation for June 2018, when Saudi women will be finally given the right to drive, after nearly three decades of honourable protest.

And adding to the occasion, women were allowed for the first time in history to attend a football match inside King Fahd Stadium, in Riyadh.

In October 2017, the government announced the lifting of the ban that stopped women from entering football stadiums. As result, women will be allowed to attend three upcoming Saudi Professional League matches, in three so-far ‘approved’ stadiums.

But it stands to point out that even though women were segregated while watching the game, and made to enter through separate gates, their presence alone marks a significant social shift, albeit at a glacial pace.

Why Saudi Arabia is in every sense of the term ‘a man’s world’

From the minute she is born until death, a woman’s life is rigorously controlled by her male guardian, be that her father or brother, who has the authority to make important decisions on her behalf, including signing contracts, travelling, having a passport, and getting married and divorced.

Its archaic laws and state-sanctioned gender discrimination means that women are treated as second-class citizens, and by the power of the land, unfit to make decisions.

In fact, its highest religious figure, the Grand Mufti, publicly declared (and rather incorrectly) that abolishing male guardianship would be a “crime against Islam” and in a theocratic monarchy like Saudi Arabia, his word is a difficult influence to overcome.

Unfortunately, this scenario is something we tend to witness in every campaign for women’s rights, where authoritative figures are quick to play the culture card when discussing social reform.

Last year, King Salman issued a royal decree giving Saudi women the right to drive, and what may seem a small allowance to us, was to the Kingdom a pivotal landmark in women’s rights. Up to that point, it was the only country in the whole world that didn’t allow women to drive.

But there still needs to be a lot more done. The Kingdom still doesn’t allow women the right to dress how they want, have custody of children in the case of divorce, seek medical treatment unless a male relative has signed permission, or have a fair trial (her word is only half of a man’s).

So, while the right to attend a football match and the opening of a women-only car showroom is fantastic news, let’s hope revolution doesn’t stop now.

To learn more about how to #EndMaleGuardianship, visit: https://www.hrw.org/endmaleguardianship

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