Given Saudi Arabia’s poor record for women’s rights, the opening of a girls’ council is certainly a mark of progress.
Unfortunately, photographs accompanying the launch earlier this month in al-Qassim province showed 13 men on stage – and not a single female.
The women were in another room, linked to proceedings via video, the BBC writes.
The channel quotes Prince Faisal bin Mishal bin Saud, the governor of the province, as saying: “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.”
The image, poignant for so many reasons, has echoes of a Saudi conference on the topic of “women in society” held in 2013, a picture of which showed row upon row of men in traditional keffiyeh and white thobes.
The conference was reportedly held at the University of Qassim and was apparently attended by representatives of 15 countries. None of them were women.
Women in Saudi Arabia were only given the right to vote in 2011 and run for office in municipal elections in 2015. And a ban on domestic violence and other abuse was passed for the first time in 2013.
Though no laws forbid women from driving in the Gulf kingdom, which adheres to an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, authorities do not issue them licenses.
Women cannot obtain identification cards without the consent of their male guardian and floggings and death sentences are commonplace.
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.