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How Nightgowns are Changing the Future for Saudi Women
Saudi Arabia’s women have reason to celebrate - they have been given the opportunity to work within the Kingdom by decree of the King. Last summer, King Abdullah decreed that women have the right to work in stores that provide products specifically designed for women, such as lingerie and cosmetics. Nightgowns and bras are becoming Saudi women’s banner of progress. King Abdullah has tried to steer his extremely conservative countrymen toward promoting greater freedom and opportunity for women. The King should be commended for his recent decisions to allow women the right to vote, work and learn alongside men. The King has established the first co-ed university in Saudi Arabia, in which women and men study side-by-side. At the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), women are receiving degrees in engineering, science and other technical fields. Behind the walls of KAUST women are allowed to drive on campus and are not required to wear veils. However, when women leave the campus the veils go back on, not only covering their bodies but suppressing their opportunity to participate fully in society, simply because they are women. With the enforcement by the Ministry of Labor, women are benefiting from the King’s decree. A highly educated populous of women finally has the chance to use their skills. When given the opportunity to apply for a job, more than 28,000 women responded. The surprisingly large number of applications highlights Saudi women’s desire to contribute to society and use their degrees and knowledge outside the home. A critical issue for Saudi Arabia is how to manage the growing frustration of women who are well educated, but lack the opportunity to use their skills. The decree is the first step in addressing this problem. While more needs to be done for women’s progress in Saudi Arabia, the King’s actions give reason for optimism. For more on this development see Thomas W. Lippman’s article “Saudi Women Shatter the Lingerie Ceiling”
This post written by Charity Wallace, Director of the Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.