It was an encouraging initiative for a country not known for giving women a platform in public life. (Saudi Arabia launches girls’ council – without any girls in sight)
But when Saudi Arabia wanted to show off its inaugural girls’ council in al-Qassim province, they overlooked one thing: the women.
Pictures released to mark the first Qassim Girls Council meeting showed 13 men on stage, and not a single female.
The women were apparently in another room, linked via video.
The male-dominated photos have been circulating widely on social media, after the meeting took place on Saturday.
It has been compared to another viral hit – an image of US President Donald Trump, surrounded by men, signing an abortion policy in January.
The Saudi launch was led by Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud, the province’s governor, who said he was proud of the conference and it was the first of its kind in the kingdom.
“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,” he said.
The girls’ council is chaired by Princess Abir bint Salman, his wife, who was not in the photograph.
In Saudi Arabia, a state policy of gender segregation between unrelated men and women is rigorously enforced.
But the country may be moving toward loosening some of its rules as part of its Vision 2030 programme.
Its goals included increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.
In his speech to launch the girls’ council, Prince Faisal said women make up half of society, although looking at that picture, you would not know it.
The conference on the subject of ‘women in society’ was notable for its lack of women
The conference was reportedly held at the University of Qassim and was apparently attended by representatives of 15 countries.
Much is being made of absurdity and hypocrisy of the image, but when you consider Saudi Arabia is a country where women are not permitted to drive, it seems less so.
Religious police in the Gulf Kingdom which is governed by Sharia Law only recently lifted a ban on females riding motorbikes and bicycles – as long as they wear the full-length veil and are accompanied by a male relative.
It is illegal for Saudi women to travel abroad without male accompaniment. They may only do so if their guardian agrees by signing a document know as a ‘yellow sheet’ at an airport or border crossing.
In November 2012 it emerged women were being electronically monitored with authorities using SMS to track them and inform their husbands of their whereabouts.
And it was only in 2011 that women were given the right to vote and run for office in municipal elections in 2015.