If all goes as planned, Belgium will become the first country to send a female ambassador to Saudi Arabia next year. The Belgium government hopes that in doing this, a “clear signal” will be sent to the Saudi kingdom about their ideals.
If she is confirmed, Dominique Mineur, who is currently the Belgian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, will move to Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2018 and will be the first female ambassador to be based in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Other female ambassadors have travelled to countries where women’s rights are restricted, but moving Mineur to the direct center of Saudi Arabia signifies how other governments and countries want to see major change happen in Saudi society.
Earlier this year, Belgium allowed Saudi Arabia to enter the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW is the principal body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. This decision has been widely criticized by human rights activists.
“Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a human rights group that acts as a UN watchdog.
Although Belgium voted in favor of Saudi representation on the CSW, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has said that the decision was made without sufficient political assessment and that he regrets it.
“We must be determined to double-down on our efforts to promote women’s rights as well as the universal values of human rights,” he said.
Saudi Arabia follows a conservative form of Islam and is considered to be one of the least gender equal countries in the world. However, last year Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman released information on “Vision 2030,” which promises to bring gender balance to the country.
According to the vision, Saudi women will soon be allowed to drive and to attend sports events at several major arenas. The Prince also led an anti-corruption sweep, stating, “I assure you that no one involved in a corruption case will be spared no matter if he is a prince or a minister. With enough evidence, anyone will be held accountable.”
Despite these hopeful measures, women still cannot marry, divorce, travel, freely mix with members of the opposite sex, get a job, or apply for a passport without permission from a male guardian. They are also still forbidden from appearing in public without a long black full-length head covering.
Hopefully by moving Dominique Mineur to Saudi Arabia as Belgium’s ambassador, other countries will follow and further help propel the kingdom into a gender-equal state by 2030, just as the Prince hopes.
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