Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

1955: First school for girls, 1970: First university for women

Girls have not always been able to go to school like these students in Riyadh. Enrollment at the first school for girls, Dar Al Hanan, began in 1955. The Riyadh College of Education, the first higher education institution for women, opened in 1970.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2001: ID cards for women

At the start of the 21st century, women could get personal ID cards for the first time. The cards are the only way for them to prove who they are, for example in disputes relating to inheritance or property issues. IDs were only issued with the permission of a woman's guardian, though, and to the guardian instead of directly to the woman. Only in 2006 were women able to get IDs without permission.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2005: End of forced marriages - on paper

Saudi Arabia banned forced marriage in 2005, but marriage contracts continue to be hammered out between the husband-to-be and the father of the bride, not the bride herself.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2009: The first female government minister

In 2009, King Abdullah appointed the first female minister to Saudi Arabia's government. Noura al-Fayez became the deputy education minister for women's affairs.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2012: First female Olympic athletes

Saudi Arabia agreed to allow female athletes to compete on the national team for the Olympics for the first time. One of them was Sarah Attar, who ran the women's 800 meter race at the 2012 Olympics in London wearing a headscarf. Before the Games, there was speculation that the Saudi Arabian team might be banned for gender discrimination if they didn't allow women to participate.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2013: Women are allowed to ride bicycles and motorbikes

Saudi leaders allowed women to ride bicycles and motorbikes for the first time in 2013 — but only in recreational areas, wearing full Islamic body covering and with a male relative present.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2013: First women in the Shura

In February 2013, King Abdullah swore in the first 30 women to the Shura, Saudi Arabia's consultative council. This allowed women to be appointed to these positions, soon they would be allowed to actually run for office...

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2015: Women can vote and get elected

In Saudi Arabia's 2015 municipal elections, women were able to vote and run for office for the first time. By contrast, New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893. Germany did so in 1919. At the 2015 Saudi polls, 20 women were elected to municipal roles in the absolute monarchy.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2017: First female head of the Saudi stock exchange

In February 2017, the Saudi stock exchange names the first female chairperson in its history, Sarah Al Suhaimi.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2018: Women to be allowed in sports stadiums

On October 29, 2017, the country's General Sports Authority announced that women would be allowed into sports stadiums for the first time. Three previously male-only arenas will soon be open for women as well, starting in early 2018.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2018: Driving ban eliminated

On September 26, 2017, Saudi Arabia announced that women would soon be allowed to drive, causing a flurry of driving courses for women to prepare for June 2018, when they would no longer need permission from their male guardian to get a driver's license or need their guardian in the car when they drive.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2019: Saudi women to be notified by text message if they are divorced

The new law, designed to protect them from having their marriage ended without their knowledge, will allow women to check their marital status online or visit a court to get a copy of divorce papers. Human rights defenders say the law does nothing to address the fact that Saudi women can only obtain divorces in exceedingly limited cases — such as with her husband’s consent or if he has harmed her.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has lifted its driving ban on women and made other strides toward granting women equal rights. But progress is incredibly slow, and lags far behind the rest of the world.