A Girl Council has its first meeting ‚Äì a public one ‚Äì and the official press photo shows . . . only men. This recently happened in Saudi Arabia, where the country‚Äôs first Girl Council gathering raised voices of protest worldwide. The women, as the official statement goes, were seated in a separate room with a live stream of what was happening on the podium.
The compulsory gender segregation in Saudi Arabia has been criticized for years, and attempts are slowly being made to establish women‚Äôs rights. But whoever expected men and women (or even girls) speaking side by side on this podium must have been either out of his mind or badly educated on what is going on in Riyadh behind the scenes. Only a few years earlier, there wouldn‚Äôt even have been the slightest chance of a Girl Council happening, let alone one where women have a public say. Yes, the way women and girls are treated in Saudi Arabia is appalling, and we have every right and duty to condemn this, reminding the ruling few that this is not compatible with basic human rights. But this gathering, seen as a cruel joke by western spectators, must be put into perspective. Judging by what we know through the limited first hand sources, Riyadh is in a massive fight with conservative clergy, trying its best to grant women improvements of their situation. We have very recently witnessed the country‚Äôs first elections with female candidates, and will hopefully witness the abolition of the driving ban for women in the future. In order to get there, multiple measures have been put into place. Conservative and progressive forces continue to battle over these decisions, and many of these may seem like tiny or no improvements at all. Looking at the big picture, tiny steps add up to leaps. And letting a Girl Council happen is definitely a medium step. Let‚Äôs not expect absolute liberty in every sense to just drop from the heavens tomorrow ‚Äì because that won‚Äôt happen. But let us appreciate the tiny, barely visible changes there are. And let us support those who make them happen, to encourage further change.
Girl News International