Saudi Arabia makes advances on women's rights, but still far behind: poll
By Angus McDowall
RIYADH (Reuters) - Like most Saudi Arabian girls, Raha al-Moharrak was banned from doing sports at school, a prohibition decreed on religious grounds by the kingdom's powerful clerics.
But in May, she became the first woman in her country to climb Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, winning widespread acclaim in the local press and putting a face to the idea that Saudi women are gradually expanding their horizons.
"You can't stop change," said Moharrak, a 27-year-old graphic designer, who now lives in Dubai. "The younger generation know exactly what is out there. Everything's at our fingertips."
The fact remains that if Moharrak were at home, she would not be allowed to drive a car or perform such basic tasks as opening a bank account or travelling overseas to scale her next peak without her father's permission, under the kingdom's so-called guardianship laws.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation expert survey published on Tuesday showed that Saudi Arabia is the third-worst country to be a woman in 22 Arab states, better only than Egypt and Iraq (poll2013.trust.org).
The poll, which canvassed 336 gender experts on a broad sweep of factors in August and September, rated Saudi Arabia poorly on women's involvement in politics, workplace discrimination, freedom of movement and property rights.
But Saudi scored better than many other Arab states when it came to access to education and healthcare, reproductive rights and gender violence.
King Abdullah, who has the final say on almost all Saudi issues, treads carefully around the kingdom's powerful conservative clergy, to the consternation of critics who want to see faster reforms. Continued...