A picture worth a thousand words: Saudi Arabia goes forth

The picture everyone is talking about: could this picture of Saudi King Abdullah surrounded by women be the start of a new era? (Photo courtesy of Guardian)

It may seem like a small thing, but this picture has been a subject on the lips of many since it was taken last week at a conference on health and the community. Why? Because it shows Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan posing with a group of women who are (mostly) showing their faces and are unrelated to the men. This may not matter much in many other countries, but in Saudi Arabia, this photo is groundbreaking.

By law, unrelated men and women are usually kept strictly segregated and women are expected to be covered from head to toe at all times. So for the King to allow himself to be in this photograph is of huge symbolic importance. Reform, particularly in the arena of women’s rights, has long been on the agenda in Saudi Arabia, but has also long been the subject of intense controversy.

Many have hailed this photo as a major step in the government beginning to recognise further equality between men and women, and the levels of criticism King Abdullah has received from religious hard-liners for the picture show just how seriously this one picture is being taken. But will it actually lead to anything? We can only hope that this picture will actually lead to a thousand words (and more!) being spoken on this issue…


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