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The New Arab

Saudi Arabia celebrates first-ever Women's Day

Women are currently required to have a male guardian in Saudi Arabia [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 February, 2017

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The conservative kingdom holds a three-day convention where driving bans, male guardianship and female education go up for discussion.
Saudi Arabia this week held its first-ever Women's Day celebration with a three-day convention in the kingdom's capital Riyadh.

Attendees at the event at the King Fahd Cultural Centre listened to speakers who argued for women's rights to drive and for an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system.

Among those present were female members of the country's ruling household, including Princess al-Jawhara bin Fahd al-Saud, who hosted a discussion on women's roles in education.

"We want to celebrate the Saudi woman and her successful role, and remind people of her achievements in education, culture, medicine, literature and other areas," King Fahd Cultural Centre spokesman Mohammed Al-Saif told Arab News.

The ultraconservative kingdom, which is governed according to a literalist and puritannical understanding of Islam, has been the target of much criticism from rights groups with regards to women's rights.

According to the World Economic Forum's 2015 Global Gender Gap report, the kingdom ranked 134 out of 145 countries for gender equality.

At present, women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from driving and are also required by law to have a male guardian.

The guardian, who is usually a father, spouse or brother, is responsible for granting a woman's permission to study, travel or marry.

While some changes are expected as part of the kingdom's 'Vision 2030' economic reform programme, conservative elites remain influential in forming and approving policy.
Some of these reforms have already come under fire from the state's top religious authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, who recently said that the legalising cinemas and concerts could cause the "mixing of sexes" and "atheistic or rotten" influences in Saudi society.

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