First Meeting of Saudi Arabia’s ‘Women’s Council’ Features All Men

An initiative to start a ‘Women’s Council’ in the repressive Muslim state of Saudi Arabia has become the target of criticism and mockery after a photo emerged of the first meeting online, confirming the council does not have any women on it.

The meeting took place on Saturday in al-Qassim province. Photos appearing online of the inaugural event featured a panel of thirteen men sitting on stage, but no women.

The council was organized by Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud, the province’s monarchical governor, organized the panel with the help of his wife Princess Abir bint Salman. While the princess officially chairs the council, she was not present at the inaugural meeting.

“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,” the Prince said.

Some women were reportedly involved in the meeting, but could only attend via video link, the BBC reports.

Saudi Arabia is known for its severe treatment of women in accordance with its Islamic values. Their religious law dictates that women cannot interact freely with men, drive a car, practice sports or go for a swim, and they must wear a hijab or burka at all times.

The needs of a 21st-century economy appear to be pressuring Saudi Arabia into changing some of its ways, however. The country’s Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, last month approved the ‘Vision 2030’ program, which alongside increasing economic growth seeks to loosen some of the rules around women’s rights.

This week, the Saudi labor ministry confirmed that the country is aiming to significantly boost female employment, although only in jobs where women can work from home. Mohammed bin Salman will also travel this week to America to hold talks with President Donald Trump in hopes of attracting foreign investment.

A Saudi press agency said that the trip will focus on the “strengthening of bilateral relations [and] regional issues of mutual interest.” The discussions may also include regional conflicts, particularly in Yemen, where the Saudi military has intervened against the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.

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