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The world incorporates different systems that constitute diverse societies with unique approaches to managing cultural, political, social, and economic aspects of life. For example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia represents a conservative country on a political map of the world with its strict laws and traditions. Presently, Saudi Arabia develops and shifts its focus from patriarchal norms to more liberal forms, thereby providing women with more opportunities. These innovative ways have been the focal point of various discussions among authorities and citizens on social media. It is necessary to underline that the new direction relates to important changes such as, for instance, a permission for women to drive that impacts a status of women, economy, and the public image of the country. Recent alterations in laws relating to women rights have become a success for females, while at the same time they have entailed further implementation of changes.
Women in Saudi Arabia
Gender differentiations play a significant role in the country under consideration and are a defining element of its culture. It is necessary to stress that Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal kingdom (Alhareth, Alhareth, & Dighrir, 2015). Religious conservatism has greatly reinforced this social system. Therefore, women have little function in the society and represent a group with the lowest rates of participation in different spheres such as education and workplace (Alhareth et al., 2015). According to the estimation, women constitute only 21% of working people in Saudi Arabia (Alhareth et al., 2015). Such position of women is determined by a variety of laws and traditions that have held their power and influence for centuries and are regarded as norms that oppose to Western standards of life.
The notion of guardianship complicates the status of women in the society. This phenomenon grounds on the idea that women must be accompanied by male guardians at all times and under no circumstances women can be left alone in public (Alhareth et al., 2015). It is important to stress that every woman must have a male guarding, regardless of her occupation and age (Alhareth et al., 2015). Another restriction to consider is that women have to wear unrevealing clothes (for example, abaya) in public. Additionally, women must receive guardians’ consents to make decisions about financial matters, education, and daily routines (Alhussein, 2014). Even medical care cannot be received without a male's consent. Thus, the obligation of guardianship effects women's status. As a result, women in a patriarchal society "have rarely been considered as individuals: they are typically viewed as a part of the family unit in both private and public (Alhussein, 2014). Additionally, guardianship creates imbalance in the social structure of Saudi Arabia. The government and social structures support the notion in practice (Alhareth et al., 2015). The legal sphere is also under the influence of guardianship. In fact, women do not have access to the justice system and must have male representatives (Alhareth et al., 2015). Women struggle with the norms in the kingdom and seek ways to voice their concerns about the existing suppression on different levels.
The inability to make decisions is another important feature that describes women's position in Saudi Arabia. Apart from having limited access to participate in a political life of the kingdom, it is difficult for them to manage their personal lives. For example, male relatives of the women fully control their choice and marriage process (Alhareth et al., 2015). Therefore, women are practically excluded from the social domain as important elements (Alhareth et al., 2015). Such deprivation from rights reflects "a global symbol of the oppression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom" and creates a public image of Saudi Arabia (Hubbard, 2017). However, some efforts have taken place aiming at changing the situation.
Current Changes in Saudi Arabia
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, a number of important innovations have been implemented in the context of women status and rights. It is necessary to underline that the laws do not state the roles and rights of men and women, which social order implies. However, this order has undergone certain changes. For example, women are allowed to vote and take part in local elections (Alhareth et al., 2015). When examining other rights, several questions usually rise. These questions include changes in the guardianship system, underemployment, and educational reforms. However, a new topic has become a focal point of the discussion recently. Saudi Arabia became the first country in the world to give citizenship to a robot (Wootson, 2017). Furthermore, the robot, Sophia, was designed to look like a woman. By receiving the citizenship, Sophia has gained more rights than women. For example, she appeared on the conference without a headscarf and "was unaccompanied by a male guardian" (Wootson, 2017). This event has sparkled responses on the social media and raised controversies. In the context of women rights, it may be assumed that recognition of Sophia will trigger more changes and provide women with more rights in the future.
Saudi women are also concerned with a driving issue. Until recently they were not allowed to drive. Enabling women to drive was a complicated process. Even though, women fought for this right, society resisted. It should also be noted that according to a national poll of 2006, about 80% of women were against this change and did not feel inclined to work or drive along with men (Alhareth et al., 2015). Hence, the majority of women does not seek to be released from oppression in the society and are accustomed to the situation.
The implementation of the new rule has its effect on the economy. In 2017, women were allowed to drive, but prior to this law, women were driven by men (Alhussein, 2014). In some cases, drivers were foreigners. However, in 2013 drivers' salaries increased and affected the financial state of women and their families that felt economic pressure (Alhussein, 2014; Hubbard, 2017). Thus, the law aims at initiating changes and increasing women's participation in the workplace (Hubbard, 2017). This new policy has jet to demonstrate its benefits, but the fact of such an innovation has risen various discussions.
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Views of Religious Authorities and Public Opinion
Saudi Arabia is a conservative country where religious authorities have a great influence. Their opinion is important and often reflects the nation's perspective. It is necessary to note that various laws are "overseen by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia’s religious police" known as the mutaween (Cummins, 2015). The mutaween has considered the law inappropriate due to their official policy that proclaims strict norms and emphasizes on the need to separate men and women (Cummins, 2015). However, the Council of Senior Scholars, the highest religion authority, supports the law, because it does not conflict with religious norms (Arab News, 2017). Such a contradiction of views reflects that the right to drive is a big step for the kingdom.
The law was celebrated on social media. It is worth mentioning that to achieve the implementation of this law, women made videos of themselves while driving cars. When one of the activists was arrested, people actively supported her on Facebook and Twitter, "posting more than 30,000 comments within a day of the arrest" (Cummins, 2015). Another woman who had been also arrested for her activities wrote under the news about the new law "Thank god" (Hubbard, 2017). People shared such views. One of the most liked comments belonged to the Saude rights' advocate who said that the kingdom was the last country on Earth to implement this law (Hubbard, 2017). Such an active social position on mass media indicates that Saudi Arabia may be ready for more changes.
Additionally, the law presents a successful result for Saudi women. This act should entail a great number of the following changes. Thus, according to the activists, the next campaign will be against the guardianship (Hubbard, 2017). Considering the changes that have happened in Saudi Arabia, the theme of women's rights may spread to the official level. It is also necessary to stress that social media play a significant role in this process.
Saudi Arabia is a conservative country that has little recognition of women rights, but starts to implement changes that can improve such a situation on social, political, and economic levels. Alterations are crucial in different aspects of life. For example, the notion of guardianship is one of the most important phenomena that restricts women and is reinforced by social and religious customs and traditions (for example, dress codes, organization of marriages, and others). A passive social position of women also includes an inability to make decisions and appeal to justice. However, the fact that women have received right to drive cars is a positive notion that has economic and social implications. Religious authorities support this new law, and social media actively celebrate it. Thus, the driving law is a success for women who expect to gain more rights in the future.
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