On Saturday Saudi Arabia launched the first of its kind Women’s Council in Qassim. When photos of the event started circulating on social media, one thing stood out. There were no women at the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Council. Instead, there were 13 men on stage.
According to the BBC, women sat in another room and listened via video link. Women could listen, not talk.
Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud, Qassim’s governor, said, “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,” the BBC reports.
The Council is chaired by Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud’s wife, Princess Abir bint Salman who was not pictured.
Saudi Arabia has long been known for its repression and severe treatment of women in the Islamic kingdom. Breitbart reports, in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s Islamic values, “women cannot interact freely with men, drive a car, practice sports or go for a swim, and they must wear a hijab or burka at all times.”
With the dramatic decline in oil prices, Saudi Arabia seeks to expand and diversify its economic engine. To accomplish this, Saudi Arabia, by necessity, may need more women in their workforce.
According to Breitbart, “the country’s Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, last month approved the ‘Vision 2030’ program, which alongside increasing economic growth seeks to loosen some of the rules around women’s rights.”
Currently, approximately, 22% of Saudi women participate in the workforce. One of the goals of the “Vision 2030” program is to expand female participation in the Saudi workforce to 30%. Even so, these would still only be jobs women could do from home. The strictly enforced Saudi policy of gender segregation would remain in force. Baby steps…