By Nidhi Kinhal
Saudi Arabia is considered to be one of the most gender-segregated nations, with very little autonomy in the hands of women. Women are not allowed to drive, they must wear burkhas, and constantly live under the supervision of men. Just this month, a Saudi woman was temporarily arrested after a video of her wearing a crop top and miniskirt went viral, and previously, the country’s election into the UN Women’s Rights Council had sparked outrage about the irony.
Now, local media reported that King Salman has issued an order, allowing women to access education and healthcare services without the consent of a male guardian. According to Maha Akeel, a women’s rights advocate and director at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, points out that this step challenges the male guardianship system, which is “un-Islamic and humiliating for women.” The only irony is that the order was issued by a man himself, but small victories, right?
Women have been able to vote in municipal elections, work in the retail and hospitality sector and compete in the Olympics due to a trend of loosening male control, and creating more opportunities. Saudi Arabia has a history of protest and resistance from women, especially with the rise of social media, and it seems to be showing results. Of course, it’s tricky when men have so much power that the only way women can access freedom and change existing patterns is if men “allow” them their share, but it’s a start.
Women are being included in the workforce to boost the country’s economy, and open up new avenues, and these are small victories. There’s a lot of work to be done, such as decrease moral policing, and change people’s mindsets, but it should get better, what with women getting educated, working and challenging norms.