What a difference 12 months can make.

2017 has been a year of rapid change in our part of the world, and a lot of it has been to do with the standing of women. It’s a lot of good news.

From women in Saudi Arabia gaining the right to drive, to public sector employees in the UAE having their maternity leave increased, join us for a look at how laws from around here have changed this year.

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The end of Saudi Arabia’s ban on women behind the wheel

In September, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made headlines worldwide when it announced that as of June 2018, women would legally be allowed to drive. The ban ended as part of Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s plan to diversify and reinvigorate its economy for a post-oil age.

saudi woman driving

Activist Manal Al Sharif, who was jailed in 2011 for driving in public, welcomed the landmark ruling, saying “Saudi Arabia will never be the same again”.

Saudi’s ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, also heralded the milestone, calling it “a historic and big day” and “the right decision at the right time”, according to the BBC.

Saudi stadiums opened to women

The next month, the kingdom made moves to welcome women into sports arenas. Stadiums in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam will “accommodate families from early 2018,” the Saudi sports authority said.

The shift followed a one-time opening of stadium doors to women in celebration of the kingdom’s national day in September.

saudi stadium national day

Public events more generally are also set to open up in Saudi Arabia. The country’s ban on public cinemas is soon to be lifted, and in December, it hosted its first-ever concert headlined by a woman.

Public sector workers in the UAE get their maternity leave boosted

Back in May, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum ruled that women employed by the government should get 90 days of paid leave after giving birth, up from 60 days.

In the private sector, women in the Emirates are currently allowed 45 days’ leave, but in October, Noura Al Kaabi called for companies to increase their offering.

maternity law uae,

“The most important thing is how each entity can be flexible in promoting that and giving women the choice of having a long or short maternity leave and having women come back where they are refreshed and ready to work,” the Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development told The National at the time.

Tunisia’s landmark law to protect women from domestic violence

In July, Tunisia passed the Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women, praised as a landmark step for women’s rights by the Human Rights Watch.

Worded to encompass the wide range of ways that abuse can present, the law covers “any physical, moral, sexual or economic aggression against women based on discrimination between the two sexes and resulting in damage or physical, sexual, psychological or economic suffering to the woman, including threats of such aggression, pressure or deprivation of rights and freedoms, both in public and private life.”

It also covers sexual harassment in public, and allows women to get restraining orders against abusers more easily.

Jordan’s first female Supreme Court judge

September saw the appointment of Judge Ihsan Zuhdi Barakat to the highest position in Jordan’s judiciary, when she was made a Supreme Court judge.


It was the first time a woman had held the post, and just another barrier broken by Barakat. She’s also the first woman to serve as Amman’s Attorney General, and to chair the West Amman Court.

Here’s to more women on the rise, and more firsts, in 2018.

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