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Advances for women in Saudi Arabia are motivated by economic rather than women’s rights considerations - expert comment

Dr Nicola Pratt, Reader in International Politics of the Middle East from the Univesrity of Warwick's Department of Politics and International Studies, comments:

"The decisions to allow Saudi women to attend sports events for the first time comes soon after the repeal of the ban on women’s driving and are examples of how the Saudi authorities are trying to liberalize Saudi society. This comes in a context in which the government is trying to relax the country’s strict social codes by making available more types of entertainment, such as cinemas and music concerts.

"These changes create more social freedoms, including for women, however, their aim is to improve Saudi Arabia’s economy and reduce dependency on the oil sector. The situation of women in Saudi Arabia has long contributed to giving the country a poor image internationally. The repeal of the driving ban and giving women the right to attend sporting events help to change Saudi’s negative image at a time in which the country is trying to attract foreign investment and even foreign tourists.

"Whilst these reforms will be welcome to many women, nonetheless they will not radically change women’s lives since they do not address the very restrictive guardianship system. Under this system, women are treated as minors and must gain permission from a father or husband in order to open a bank account, get married, apply for a passport and start a business, amongst other things. Although women’s groups have begun to campaign to end the guardianship system, there is no indication that this is on the government’s agenda."

October 30, 2017

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