Imogen Francis/Contributing Writer
Women in Saudi Arabia will be legally allowed to get behind the wheel of a car 28 years after the first protests began.
It was announced on Sept. 26, 2017 in a royal decree that come June 2018, women will legally have the right to drive throughout Saudi Arabia.
The protests began in 1990 with women driving around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, and eventually being arrested.
“We see improvements, but it’s not linear,” said Susanne Zwingel, an associate professor of the Department of Politics and International Relations at FIU.
A key change in women’s rights is the number of women in political roles according to Zwingel. Many countries have instituted quotas to ensure that women are represented in political decision making.
For women’s issues to be heard and acted on, over one-third of representation has to be women, according to Chris Girard, an associate professor of sociology at the University.
“The global women’s movement has had some impact on the structure of the government,” Girard said.
In Rwanda, a quota has been put in place giving 30 percent of their parliamentary seats to women. Because of this, they now have 64 percent of seats in the Rwandan government. Saudi Arabia also put a quota in place for their legislative branch of government. Women now make up 20 percent of the representation.
Though there has been advancements in women’s rights, there have also been many setbacks, according to Zwingel.
High levels of domestic violence and sexual harassment reports have recently come to light with movements such as #MeToo, a Twitter hashtag where women shared their experience with sexual harassment. Zwingel is unsure if this is due to more reporting or if violence against women is actually on the increase.
The rate of change when it comes to women’s rights can vary. Countries such as Norway and Denmark, Zwingel said, are more progressive than countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Culture —as diverse as it may be— is also the key factor in women’s rights, she said.
Saudi Arabia’s culture is far more conservative than Scandinavian countries, who are leaders in women’s rights. This conservatism limits the ability for change and the willingness of people to accept it, according to Zwingel.
“When women say they want a bigger share of the cake, there is going to be a reaction,” said Zwingel.
The issue of women’s rights is also subjective. It is important to remember that not all women in countries such as Saudi Arabia are unhappy with the current treatment of women, Zwingel said.
Saudi Arabian women may have less personal freedom, but they do have advanced healthcare and economic security, she says.
However, the fight for women’s rights worldwide is still ongoing and can be most seen in the gender pay gap, as women earn less than men in every country of the world.
Internationally the gender pay gap ranges. In Norway women earn on average 78.9 percent to the man’s dollar, but in Kuwait women are earning on average 42.6 percent to the man’s dollar, according to World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index 2017. This hinders women’s ability to provide for their families and their financial stability, said Zwingel.
Despite many instances of inequality for men and women, Girard said that the world is making strides toward serious change.
“There is a global women’s movement,” Girard said. “There is a change in consciousness worldwide.”
Feature Image retrieved from Flickr.