Women in Saudi Arabia seemed pleasantly surprised this week by an announcement a ban on women cyclists has been lifted. Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has reportedly confirmed women now are able to use bicycles and motorbikes around the Arab kingdom.
According to Al-Yaum, a Saudi Arabian daily newspaper, the law stipulates women must be accompanied by a male relative and wear a full-length abaya. The ban lift applies to parks and recreational areas, yet cycling is yet to be permitted as a form of transport for women. Areas where rallies and protests are held must be steered clear of any unwanted incidents.
This development seems to be a small step, yet progress in a certain direction. Although Saudi Arabia remains the only country in which women still seek the freedom to drive, women’s rights are slowly improving. King Abdullah took the unprecedented step of appointing 30 women as members of Saudi Arabia’s formal advisory body, the Shura Council, earlier this year, bringing female representation to 20%. The King also announced plans to allow women to vote in municipal elections from 2015.The World Economic Forum’s 2009 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries for gender equality.
There may still be room for improvement, yet it seems evident the Saudi government is paying attention to international pressure. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Human Rights and Democracy Report categorizes Saudi Arabia as a “country of concern” for its human rights record.
The Foreign Office acknowledged an increase of Saudi women’s integration into the work force. It’s latest update to the publication reported new labour laws abolishing the requirement for women to acquire consent from their fathers or guardians to be employed. It also praised successful campaigns calling for the Ministry of Commerce to remove rules stating women must have legal representation in order to conduct business.
How has such situations aimed to bring more equality amongst women around the world?