Saudi Arabia is still known as one of the most repressive countries of women’s rights in the world. However, reformation laws that promote equality are being implemented under King Salman’s rule. On February 26th, the country announced that women have the opportunity to join the military in the provinces of Riyadh, Mecca, Al-Qassim, and Medina.
The military roles Saudi women can apply for do not involve combat but will give them the opportunity to work within the security sector of the military. Before being accepted, female applicants must first meet at least twelve requirements issued by the country.
Applicants must be Saudi citizens who were raised within the Kingdom unless their father was required to live abroad due to government work. The women must be between 25-35 years old and cannot be shorter than five feet tall. They must also have a “good weight to height ratio.” Applicants should be educated with at least a high school diploma and will have to go through extensive interviews and a medical check-up to determine that they will perform well in the military.
The applicants must also carry independent national identification cards. They cannot be married to a non-Saudi man, cannot have a criminal record, cannot have been previously employed in any government or military-related institution, and must live in the same area as their job’s location. Their guardian’s job must also be in the same area.
Yes, the male guardianship system is still in place in Saudi Arabia. Every woman is required to have a male guardian, who can be a husband, father, brother, or even a son. The women must be accompanied by that guardian when engaging in everyday tasks, and these men have legal power to make critical life decisions on behalf of the women in their family.
This means that they ultimately have the power to decide whether or not a woman can join the military. Regardless of the woman’s ability to meet every requirement, if their guardian does not approve or does not reside nearby, countless women will be unable to pursue this career.
The country has set such strict requirements that are extremely difficult for women to pass, ultimately keeping the gender divide the same. Nonetheless, women are now allowed to serve their country, which should still be thought of as a huge milestone.
The decision is one of many reforms that have been put in place to enhance women’s rights in the otherwise conservative country. In 2013, cycling was legalized for women. Last April, a law was passed that forbid government agencies from denying women access to certain government services if without their male guardian. And last month, it was decided that women should be allowed to attend sporting events. However, women are still legally required to fully cover themselves in public and, until June 2018, are banned from driving.
Every month it seems that Saudi Arabia inches more towards equality, but there is still so much more that can be done. For now, we can rejoice that Saudi women can serve as soldiers!
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