For the first time ever, Riyadh is celebrating the role of Saudi women in society with a Women’s Day event. It’s just the latest in a series of reforms in the kingdom that appear to be swept by the tide of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
The first Women’s Day is a three day event – which started Wednesday – at the King Fahd Cultural Center.
Several advocates of the women’s right to drive and other legal rights for women, such as freedom from guardianship, spoke at the event. This includes Princess Adila bint Abdullah Al-Saud.
Mohammed Al-Saif, general supervisor of the center, said that the kingdom wants “to celebrate the Saudi woman and her successful role, and remind people of her achievements in education, culture, medicine literature and other areas,” according to Arab News.
The event is part of a broader ecosystem of reforms that have Saudi Arabia has been spearheading, particularly when it comes to women.
Women have been making significant strides forward in the kingdom
— هند الإرياني🕊 (@HindAleryani) 13 декабря 2015 г.
It’s well known that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot drive and that women’s rights are suppressed by everything from dress code regulations to male guardianship. Still, there have been significant steps forward, and it would be a mistake to dismiss them.
In 2015, women were granted the right to vote and to participate in municipal elections. Some 18 women won in elections across the kingdom the same year, as Saudi women cast their ballots for the first time in modern history.
Dents have been made in the traditional guardianship system
— Saudi Gazette (@Saudi_Gazette) 2 февраля 2017 г.
Spearheaded by King Abdullah and pressing forward with King Salman, women have been gaining more rights in the kingdom. In the past couple years, women have been granted significantly more power, dealing blows to the kingdom’s traditional guardianship system.
Women are now required to verbally give their consent before marrying and are also required to receive a copy of their marriage certificate. The Saudi Shura Council also announced a possible amendment to laws governing travel documents, giving women a right to obtain a passport without male permission.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the mastermind behind the kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030, has pushed for easing conservative laws regarding women. The 2030 plan highlights the importance of Saudi women to the kingdom’s future success.
Inspiring Saudi women have taken center stage
— Bander Al Warthan (@Balwarthan) 13 августа 2016 г.
Saudi athletes, doctors, lawyers and activists have all been raising their voices and making an impact on the conservative culture of Saudi Arabia.
During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, four Saudi women joined the kingdom’s Olympic team. Kariman Abuljadayel made headlines around the world after her 100 meter sprint.
But she wasn’t the first woman from the kingdom to compete in the Olympics. In 2012, Riyadh sent two female athletes as part of its delegation, including Sarah Attar, who became the first female track athlete to represent the kingdom when she competed in the the 800 meter race in London.
Saudi women have showed their entrepreneurial spirit as well. Four Saudi women were granted licenses to practices law and opened the kingdom’s first female law firm in 2014. Locally and internationally, Saudi women have been proving stereotypes wrong and showing that they can achieve highly, despite the kingdom’s often restrictive laws.
Will Saudi women be allowed to drive?
حان وقت قيادة المرأة للسيارةhttps://t.co/BBgyF8i1Gs
Stop the debate:
Time for women to drivehttps://t.co/6KAniFa4BT
— الوليد بن طلال (@Alwaleed_Talal) 29 ноября 2016 г.
Many Saudi activists continue to push for an end on the kingdom’s ban on women driving. Recently, legislation regarding the ban has faced an uphill battle in the kingdom’s Shura Council.
But many prominent Saudis have argued for lifting the ban. In November, billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal shared an open letter saying it is “time Saudi women started driving.”