Winning: Arabian Women Make [Some] Gains.

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February 21, 2006: The War on Terror is having some interesting repercussions in the Arab world. A recent proposal to change Saudi law to permit women to drive was scrubbed even before it got to a vote in the country's legislative assembly. But, in an interesting development, the Ministry of Culture reminded women that, although they could not legally drive, they could legally apply for driver's licenses. This odd loophole in Saudi law means that Saudi women will automatically qualify for international drivers' licenses, and will be able to drive on the strength of their Saudi licenses, when not in Saudi Arabia.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia, women have been making considerably more gains in the United Arab Emirates. In November of 2004 American educated Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi became the first women to hold a ministry in the government, when she was appointed Minister of Economics and Planning. There are now four women who are full cabinet members in the UAE, plus several in the cabinets of the constituent emirates. Several women also hold ministerial positions in Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. In most cases, the women are responsible for "women's issues" (e.g., education, health, welfare, etc.) which helps make their appointment more palatable to religious traditionalists.

Most of the women appointed to cabinet posts have been members of the royal family. Sheikha Lubna, for example, is a princess of the Qasimi clan, one of the two royal houses of Sharjah, a constituent emirate of the UAE. In several of the Gulf states women have also begun finding positions in military service in this fashion. Such an approach prevents religious conservatives from being too outspoken against appointing women to "non-traditional" jobs, as they are less likely to criticize a woman if she's well-connected.

And just for the record, the scorecard on women in the cabinet now stands at UAE 4, USA 4.

 


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