Saudi Arabia has long been known for its strict social and legal restrictions on women’s rights. The guardianship system, which requires women to obtain permission from male relatives to travel, marry, or work, has been a major source of controversy, as have the restrictions on women’s ability to access education, participate in the workforce, and drive. Despite some recent reforms, there remains much work to be done to ensure that women’s rights are protected and promoted in KSA. In this article, we will explore the current state of women’s rights in KSA, examining some of the key challenges that women face, as well as recommendations for how the government and civil society can work to promote gender equality.
Access to Education
One of the key challenges facing women in KSA is the limited access to education. Historically, women have been excluded from higher education and many professions, and continue to face barriers to education today. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, women’s education is often treated as a “secondary priority” in KSA, with many women facing obstacles to accessing quality education, such as lack of transportation, inadequate facilities, and social stigma. This can have long-term impacts on women’s economic prospects, as education is a key factor in determining employment opportunities and earning potential.
To address this issue, the KSA government has recently taken steps to expand access to education for women, such as opening new women’s colleges and universities, as well as relaxing some of the restrictions on women’s travel and movement. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that women have equal access to quality education, particularly in STEM fields and other areas where women are traditionally underrepresented.
Recommendations: To improve women’s access to education in KSA, the government should work to increase funding for women’s schools and universities, provide transportation and other logistical support, and promote equal opportunities for women in all fields of study. Civil society organizations can also play an important role in promoting women’s education, through advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns, as well as providing scholarships and other forms of support to women seeking higher education.
The Guardianship System
Another major challenge facing women in KSA is the guardianship system, which requires women to obtain permission from male relatives (such as fathers, husbands, or brothers) for a wide range of activities, including travel, marriage, and employment. This system has been criticized as a major barrier to women’s autonomy and freedom, and has been the subject of numerous protests and advocacy campaigns in recent years.
While the KSA government has made some efforts to reform the guardianship system, such as granting women the right to obtain passports and travel without the permission of a male guardian, many of the most restrictive provisions remain in place. For example, women still require permission from male relatives to marry, and the system of male guardianship is deeply ingrained in KSA’s legal and social norms.
Recommendations: To address the guardianship system, the KSA government should take bold steps to abolish this system and promote equal rights for women. This could include revising the legal framework to grant women more autonomy and freedom, as well as investing in awareness-raising campaigns to promote gender equality and challenge traditional gender roles. Civil society organizations can also play an important role in advocating for the rights of women and challenging the guardianship system through legal action and public protests.
The Right to Drive
Perhaps the most visible symbol of women’s rights in KSA is the right to drive. For decades, women were prohibited from driving in KSA, a restriction that was widely seen as a symbol of the country’s strict gender norms and restrictions on women’s autonomy. However, in 2018, the KSA government lifted the ban on women driving, a major step forward for women’s rights in
Additionally, the Saudi government has implemented several initiatives aimed at empowering women, including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Principles and the establishment of the Saudi Human Rights Commission’s Women’s Empowerment Office. These initiatives are a positive step towards improving women’s rights in the country, but there is still much work to be done.
Access to Education
Education is a fundamental right for all, yet many women in Saudi Arabia continue to face significant barriers to accessing education. Historically, women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to attend school or university, but this began to change in the early 2000s. Since then, there has been a significant increase in the number of women enrolling in higher education, with women now accounting for over 50% of all university students in the country.
However, despite these improvements, there are still many challenges that women face in accessing education. One major issue is the lack of access to female-only campuses, as many universities are still gender-segregated. This can make it difficult for women to attend classes, especially if they have to travel long distances to do so.
Another challenge is the lack of employment opportunities for women after they graduate. Women in Saudi Arabia are often expected to prioritize marriage and family over their careers, and as a result, they face significant discrimination in the job market. This can discourage women from pursuing higher education in the first place, as they may feel that their efforts will not lead to meaningful employment opportunities.
Recommendations: To improve women’s access to education, the Saudi government should work to ensure that female-only campuses are available at all universities. They should also work to create more employment opportunities for women, including by enforcing laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace.
The Guardianship System
The guardianship system in Saudi Arabia is a highly controversial issue, as it restricts the autonomy of women by requiring them to have a male guardian’s permission to engage in many activities. This includes everything from traveling outside of the country to getting married or seeking medical treatment. The system is rooted in traditional interpretations of Islamic law and has been in place for centuries.
While the guardianship system has been relaxed in recent years, with women now able to obtain passports and travel outside of the country without a male guardian’s permission, it remains a significant obstacle to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Many women are still unable to make important decisions about their own lives, and the system can be used to justify abusive and controlling behavior by male family members.
Recommendations: To address the issue of the guardianship system, the Saudi government should work to gradually abolish the system and replace it with laws that respect women’s autonomy and human rights. In the meantime, the government should ensure that women have access to legal support and protection from abuse by male guardians.
The Right to Drive
The issue of women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia has received significant international attention in recent years, as it was the only country in the world where women were not allowed to drive until 2018. The ban on women driving was based on conservative interpretations of Islamic law and was seen as a way to restrict women’s autonomy and mobility.
The lifting of the ban on women driving was a significant step forward for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, but there are still challenges that women face in exercising their right to drive. For example, women still face discrimination in the workplace and on the roads, and there are concerns about the safety of female drivers.
Recommendations: To address these challenges, the Saudi government should work to ensure that women have equal access to driving education and licensing, and that they are protected from discrimination and harassment on the roads. The government should also work to create more employment opportunities for women in the transportation sector.
In conclusion, while there have been some positive developments in recent years, the status of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia remains a significant concern for the international community. Women still face significant obstacles when it comes to education, employment, and personal freedoms, due to the deeply entrenched societal and legal structures that reinforce gender discrimination.
As the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs, we recommend that the Saudi government take concrete steps to address these issues, including amending discriminatory laws and policies, and increasing support for women’s education and employment opportunities. We also urge the international community to continue to pressure Saudi Arabia to make meaningful progress in advancing women’s rights, including through targeted sanctions and other measures.
It is only through sustained efforts and collaboration that progress can be made towards gender equality in Saudi Arabia. As a global community, we must remain vigilant in advocating for the rights of all individuals, regardless of their gender, and hold governments accountable for upholding the principles of equality and justice for all.