Saudi Arabia is not known for its strong record on women’s rights so the formation of a council, intended to provide women with more opportunities and a voice, was taken to be encouraging. In a bid to encourage women participation in workforce, Saudi Arabia has for the first time decided to launch a Girl’s Council. However, the encouraging initiative became more talk of the town, when none of the female member of the council was present on the stage at its first Qassim Girls Council meeting on March 14, 2017.
The meeting in the al-Qassim province was attended by 13 male members while the women were present too but they were in another room, linked via video due to strict Saudi laws on gender segregation between unrelated men and women. The meeting was led by province governor, Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud while the girls’ council is chaired by his wife, Princess Abir bint Salman. Saudi Arabia is taking steps to move toward loosening some of its rules and increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% as part of its Vision 2030 programme. But it should also see that women’s voices must be heard in the changes and for this they need to be given a platform. Saudi Arabia regularly scores near the bottom on global gender equality rankings. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap report put it at 141 out of 145 countries, the Independent reported. Women are not allowed to drive and must have the permission of a male guardian to work, study, travel or marry.