The Big Problem with Saudi Arabia's New Council for Girls

March 14th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A province in Saudi Arabia announced a new council to empower women, a seemingly progressive sign in a country that still doesn't allow women to drive.

But then pictures of the council members came out over the weekend.

The Qassim Girls Council met on March 11 and the pictures appeared to have 13 men on stage with no women. People on Twitter quickly criticized the pictures of a Girls Council, which seemed to be completely devoid of any actual girls or women.

However, there are actually women on the council, but because of gender segregation laws, they're not permitted to be on stage with the men, according to BBC News. So instead of focusing on the women in the Girls Council, they put the men on stage and video-linked the women from another room.

"In the Qassim region, we look at women as sisters to men, and we feel a responsibility to open up more and more opportunities that will serve the work of women and girls," Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud the province's governor said. The government of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 program wants women to be 30 percent of the work force, an improvement from the current 22 percent.

The pictures and the paternal reasoning for the council's creation drew some comparisons to male politicians in the United States.

In January, a viral image of President Donald Trump showed him signing an anti-abortion bill surrounded by only men.

The photo was of Trump on Jan. 23 when he reinstated the "global gag rule" also known as the "Mexico City policy" which blocked U.S. foreign aid to non-governmental organizations that give abortions or mention abortion in their promotional materials.

Although, Saudi Arabia's reputation for women's rights is often discussed negatively, some Saudi women are trying to change that and bring attention to women's accomplishments. On March 11, the same day the picture of the Qassim Girls Council was taken, successful Saudi women held a 200-person conference in the capital to inspire girls, according to Metro.

"Women in leadership positions today is a must, and there should be women everywhere," Lama Al Sulaiman, a Saudi woman who quit a city council because she was forced to sit in another room, reportedly told the crowd. "Saudi women can."

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