Friday 24 November 2017

Kingdom ranks in bottom three in world for gender equality

Riyadh: the capital of Saudi Arabia
Riyadh: the capital of Saudi Arabia
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

If Ireland did in fact support Saudi Arabia's inclusion on a UN Commission on the Status of Women, it would be an astonishing turn of events given the gulf between both countries on human rights issues.

The deeply conservative Islamic kingdom has a poor record on human rights generally, with executions and allegations of torture.

But its record on gender equality is particularly poor.

Last year, the World Economic Forum ranked Ireland sixth in the world in terms of gender equality.

It based this on factors such as education attainment, where the gap was said to be "fully closed", and political empowerment, with candidate gender quotas leading to more women being elected to the Dáil.

In comparison, the same index ranked Saudi Arabia third worst in the world.

Only war-torn Syria and Yemen rank below it.

While there is no major deviation between educational enrolment between men and women, many basic rights are denied to women and they have low participation and earning levels in the workforce.

The repressive guardianship system which operates in the country means women cannot carry out a number of basic tasks without the approval of a male relative.

For example, it means women cannot obtain a passport or travel abroad without the consent of their husband, father or another male relative.

Although there is no law prohibiting women from driving, licences are not issued to women and religious leaders are opposed to the concept of female drivers. There are also limits on the amount of interaction women can have with men to whom they are not related.

Segregation is common on public transport and in public places. Unlawful mixing can result in criminal charges.

There are strict rules on where women can swim.

Female participation in sport is frowned upon.

These policies have contributed to poor levels of female participation in the Saudi workforce.

Just 6pc of legislators, senior officials and managers there are women. Less than a quarter of professional and technical workers are female.

Average estimated earned income for women is a quarter of that of men.

While 20pc of parliamentarians are women, none holds ministerial positions and there has never been a female head of state.

Irish Independent

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