Women in Saudi Arabia are gaining more freedom gradually and lately they have been allowed to drive their vehicles too. However, such ban-lift only comes during times of transition or turmoil in the country.
Late last year when it was under scrutiny that Saudi had ties with Islamist militants, the kingdom announced women could be appointed as consultants to the Royal Advisory Council. The opposite sex under male-dominant society started getting scholarship offers to study abroad, but though need to be accompanied by their male guardian.
The Kingdom also announced women could be henceforth elected to local chambers of commerce. Later, there were some speculations that Arab Spring could reach Saudi Arabia and the then King Abdullah invited selective women with full members to the Royal Advisory Council. He added that women could be employed to retail jobs, participate in Olympics and contest elections at municipal level.
The successor Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stunned the world last September with his announcement that ban on women driving could be lifted this summer. He appointed women as head of the stock exchange and to a bank too. Attending recreational events and sports for women are now part of life.
All such reforms announced by Prince Mohammed are aimed to make the women there good workers and good consumers of recreation, but still the essential power structures keeps them second-class citizens untouched. This mean those guardians who are supportive would enable the women aligned to reforms while others would still believe in shaping the future of women as per the policies and rules of a conservative family.
It is a fact that Saudi women are more educated in the region and this means they can contribute much to the nation’s economy. Their employment will make Saudi Arabia less overdependence on oil. The private sector is currently underdeveloped and mostly catered to retail and construction sectors. They are largely dependent on state funding. Women participation, which accounts to about 21 percent, would reshape the scenario few years down the lane.
The concession on women’s rights is said would bring political benefits too, sending a message to the world and would-be foreign investors that this is the regime worth investing.
However, it is not to forget exceptions. It is true most of the women come from conservative families and this mean they would not be able to gain from the reforms. It will take time, probably years and decades until next generation reaches adulthood, to accept the freedom in practical, not only in theory as the case now be.
As of now, a minority of women coming from powerful business and political families can be benefited from the changes. These are those women who first participated in chambers of commerce in Riyadh, Jidda and Dammam. They are the one who enjoys a soccer game and probably will be seen on roads driving their own cars.