Women barred from launch of Qassim Girls’ Council

The BBC reports that Saudi Arabia has launched a girls’ council without any girls.

It’s an embarrassing oversight. The women, we are told, were in another room linked by video. It reminds me of a similar initiative in Helmand Province in which women were included in the District Community Council:

‘NAHR‑E‑SARAJ IS ONE of 14 districts which make up Helmand Province. Each is governed by a council of elected officials known as the District Community Council (DCC). This was an entirely Western institution conceived by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID). Founded in 2010, elections were to be held every couple of years when each of the mosques in the district would be entitled to select three men to represent them. These representatives would then form an electoral college who would vote on the 20 or so from their number who would actually serve as DCC councillors.

Gereshk being a shockingly liberal city, the Nahr‑E‑Saraj DCC was unique in Helmand Province in having a small number of female councillors. This was something the DfID representatives in Gereshk had insisted upon at the initial election and which had been grudgingly accepted by the district’s menfolk. To get around the obvious problems of actually allowing women a free vote, or the possibility that a female might defeat a male election candidate, such women as were permitted to do so by their husbands held a separate vote to select only the female councillors. On election, these token women councillors were not allowed to join their male colleagues at the council table and were authorised to debate and vote only on women’s issues. No one seemed entirely clear what these gender specific issues were, but this didn’t matter because they were never discussed.

Despite these rather obvious flaws, DfID took great pride in its female councillors. To my mind, rather than representing progress towards gender equality, they highlighted the lack of it.’

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