Slowly but definitely, the Kingdom has been taking strides to ensure progress of Saudi women. Photograph:( Zee News Network )
In a yet another historic, “game changer” move, Saudi Arabia has allowed its women citizens to enter the sports stadium. Women’s entry was banned in all stadiums but with this move, from the early next year i.e. 2018 women will attend sporting events in the city of Riyadh, Jeddah and the eastern city of Dammam. However, women must be accompanied by a male guardian according to the Wilaya or guardianship system. Under this system, every woman is subject to a legal male guardian, father, husband or son, whose permission is required for her to marry, get divorced, travel abroad, open a bank account, get employment, or undergo medical surgery.
Image change is the need of the hour for Saudi rulers especially the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as it will help to show his skills of being a capable ruler to world leaders.
However, the pace at which the positive, gender friendly moves are happening is questionable. The State, in fact, is making alliances with women only for the purpose of fulfilling its interests - both internal and external. Alliance with women would help Saudi in externally change its position in the global scenario from a regressive to a forward-looking state. Women and their portrayal as veiled, unveiled, modern, westernise is often used to depict a distinct political identity and give a message globally.
Image change is the need of the hour for Saudi rulers, especially the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as it will help to show his skills of being a capable ruler to world leaders. Its a crucial moment as Saudi needs global investments under its plan National Transformation Plan 2020 and “Saudi Vision 2030”- a plan for social and economic reform as the kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.
A few weeks back, Saudi lifted the ban on women driving. Women will be able to drive from June 2018. However, internally, Saudi needs women in the workforce. Women earn more than half of college and graduate degrees but only comprise 20 per cent of the workforce. This move will encourage women to participate in the development of economy and families will not have to employ drivers which will save a lot of money as drivers will not be able to send money to their home countries which will strengthen the balance of payment.
These gender friendly moves have nothing to do with women empowerment but are one of the means to strengthen and consolidate power in Saudi as cracking in the system has started.
With the decrease in the oil prices, subsidies are being cut and sales tax is introduced. People have lived with cheap petrol, without taxes, and free water and electricity throughout in Saudi are now finding it difficult. Moreover, 70 per cent of the Saudi population is young and under thirty years.
The real change will happen when Saudi will have citizens participation, where they will play an important role in running the state, when human rights abuses will stop and freedom of speech will be encouraged, women lives will not be governed by guardianship system.
Most of this young population are foreign educated thanks to various scholarship programmes run by the Saudi Government. They demand a more open society where both the sexes can mix freely. Means of entertainment are being encouraged as Saudi population spends huge amounts on holidays abroad. With the opening of the society, this money can be saved which will help the Saudi economy.
Changes are taking place, the religious police the Mutawa, who mission is to "prevent vice and promote virtue" is less active on the street. However, the real change will happen when Saudi will have citizens participation, where they will play an important role in running the state, when human rights abuses will stop and freedom of speech will be encouraged, women lives will not be governed by guardianship system.