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GCC sees women’s rights progress in wake of reforms

Saudi Arabia made the biggest improvement globally.

LONDON- With International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8, efforts to improve the lives of women in the Gulf Cooperation Council region is yielding positive results.

In February, during the 39th session of the Arab Women’s Committee, which convened under the banner of “Empowering Women… Development of Society,” Riyadh was declared the “Capital of Arab Women 2020.”

Saudi Arabia hosting the UN-endorsed event speaks volumes about the progress the kingdom has made on female empowerment.

“Women, Business and the Law,” an annual report compiled by the World Bank that analyses laws and regulations pertaining to women’s economic inclusion, said the Saudi economy leads the world in improvement towards gender equality.

“Saudi Arabia made the biggest improvement globally, enacting reforms in six out of eight areas measured including in women’s mobility, sexual harassment, retirement age and economic activity,” said the report, which also praised the United Arab Emirates for its reforms.

The World Bank report showed Saudi Arabia’s ranking increasing 38.8 points since 2017. Among areas highlighted were Saudi women’s freedom of movement, as reforms under the country’s Vision 2030 championed changes to domestic laws. Women in the kingdom no longer need permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or to obtain a passport, for instance.

“Saudi Arabia also amended the Civil Status Law to allow a woman to choose where to live in the same way as a man by removing a provision that made the husband’s home the default residence,” the report said, adding that a husband can no longer sue his wife for leaving the marital home.

“These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society,” Saudi Ambassador to the United States Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan said about the reforms.

“It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women,” she added.

The World Bank highlighted what it described as ground-breaking Saudi reforms, which ranged from laws that protect women from discrimination in employment to the criminalising of sexual harassment in public and private sector employment, while encouraging women’s entrepreneurship by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in accessing financial services.

The United Arab Emirates, which has a progressive record in support of its female population and counts eight women serving in the government’s cabinet, was also lauded for its reforms.

“Over the last several years, Emirati authorities have shown a commitment to removing legal barriers to women’s work,” the World Bank report said.

UAE reforms include prohibiting discrimination based on gender in employment, introducing penalties for sexual harassment and lifting restrictions on women’s work at night and in certain industries.

Bahrain also reportedly made progress with its Supreme Council for Women recently adopting a second National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women for 2013-22, which focuses on supporting women’s entrepreneurship and enhancing their physical and psychological wellbeing and protection from domestic violence.

Additionally, Bahrain adopted provisions regarding sexual harassment in employment, including criminal penalties for perpetrators. Bahraini Labour Minister Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan said the new laws were in line with international standards.

Regional achievements were also recognised in the United States. In January, during the keynote address at the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai, Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President Donald Trump, praised Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for improving the quality of life of female citizens.

“Saudi Arabia has changed laws to respect women’s freedom of movement and access to credit and financial services,” Trump said. “Bahrain has introduced legislation against discrimination in the workplace and Jordan removed legal restrictions which limited women’s ability to work at night.

“We all need to applaud these achievements and advancements.”

Trump commended Emirati leaders for “removing barriers to women joining the workforce and developing a national strategy that recognises that women are central to sustainable growth.”

“We know that this is going to grow and flourish in the years ahead,” she said.



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