Thanks to some bold economic plans, life could get better for women in the infamously repressive country of Saudi Arabia.
Dubbed “Vision 2030,” a Saudi prince announced the Kingdom’s intention to ween itself off oil as the center of its economy by the year 2020. He also announced other facets of this sweeping economic and social reform, including increased efforts to get women in the workforce.
This isn’t just a smart move economically, but one that could lead to profound social progress over time. We’ve seen it happen in other formerly male-dominated economies: once women join the workforce, it leads to greater independence and, eventually, increased gender equality.
The most gender-segregated industrial nation on the planet, Saudi Arabia currently forbids women from driving, associating with men who aren’t their relatives, going anywhere without the company of a male chaperon, or even trying on clothes while out shopping. Apparently, the idea of a naked women behind the dressing room door is just too much temptation for Saudi men to bear. Poor them.
“The main challenge we face,” says Maha Akeel, the first female magazine editor in Saudi Arabia, “is women are always treated as subordinates, not as full human beings who can take care of themselves.”
On social media, Saudis reacted to the news with a mixture of hope and skepticism. The hashtag #NationalTransformation trended on KSA’s Twitter for hours. Comedian Hatoon Kadi wrote (translated from Arabic): “We are optimistic. May God help our leaders.”
اللهم إنا استودعناك بلادنا ????????،اللهم وفق قادتنا و هيئ لهم من أمرهم رشداً????????????????،
متفائلون بإذن الله
— هتون قاضي (@HatoonKadi) April 25, 2016
On the other hand, journalist Turki Shalhoub wrote: “#NationalTransformation 2030 cannot be achieved with corrupt tools. In order to achieve this transformation, we need an elected parliament.”
Of course, Saudi Arabia has made promises to women before. In 2013, for example, the country’s religious police openly encouraged women to ride bicycles—so long as they rode in circles and were accompanied by a male guardian. In 2015, Saudi women were allowed to vote for the first time—but Saudi Arabia holds no elections for anyone of power, and the few women whose husbands allowed them to cast their ballot did so in a segregated polling facility.
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