Where do women stand in Saudi Arabia's reform plans?

Where do women stand in Saudi Arabia's reform plans?
Saudi Arabia on Monday announced a long term plan for the future of the country, dubbed 'Vision 2030', but the future of women's rights in the country remains unclear.
2 min read
26 Apr, 2016
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving [Getty]

Saudi Arabia unveiled on Monday a "Vision 2030," enlisting long term plans for the kingdom's economic prosperity.

The plan did not forget women's rights and saw the Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman respond to increasing calls by the kingdom's female population to end gender restrictions in the workplace.

One of the plan's stated goals is to increase women's participation in the work force, from 22 percent to 30 percent within the next fifteen years, the deputy crown prince told reporters during a press conference.

When asked whether the predictive increase was realistic given that women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, Mohammed bin Salman explained that so far Saudi society "is not persuaded" over a woman's rights to get behind the wheel.

"So far the society, not the government, will determine whether women will be allowed to drive cars," he said, adding that change cannot be forced.

The kingdom is currently the only country in the world where women are banned from driving.

It ranks in at 134 out of 145 as the worst state to be a woman, according to the World Economic Forum ranking.

Over the last few years, Saudi women have increasingly called for the government to rescind the ban on driving, particularly through social media.

These have followed incremental rises in prominence by women in Saudi Arabia's business and political order, including the election of 14 women in regional municipal elections.

But campaigns within the country involving women illegally driving and uploading footage have lead to activists being arrested.

The kingdom's major cities are expanding their public transport networks, but for the moment rights of travel by women remain restricted.

Saudi women must be accompanied by male "guardians" when travelling, and a male family member must authorise her travel, work or marriage.

A woman's ability to work is often only possible if a driver can be afforded.