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Saudi woman arrives at a mosque to offer Eid al-Fitr morning prayers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Hassan Ammar/AP
Girls & Women

This Country Is the First Ever to Send a Female Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Known for its waffles, beers, and chocolates, this small country is not necessarily renowned for its feminist foreign policy. But perhaps it should be. 

Last week, the country of Belgium announced it will send a female ambassador, Dominique Mineur, to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first country to do so, the Washington Post reports. Mineur had previously been stationed in the United Arab Emirates. 

Belgium will also send a female ambassador to Iran, according to the Belgian publication La Libre

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These decisions were made in order to send a “clear signal” about the need for Saudi Arabia to reform its laws regarding women, which remain outdated despite recent changes allowing women to drive and attend sporting matches.

The decision to send female ambassadors to Iran and Saudi Arabia “is further evidence of the stakes of women's rights in these countries,” according to Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who spoke with Belgian press Monday.  

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He added that sending a female ambassador to both countries indicated a “willingness to send the most competent people to positions that are increasingly important on the international scene” and said that doing so "should have been obvious.”

Read More: 2017 Was A Good Year for Saudi Women, But There’s Still A Long Way to Go

Saudi Arabia was ranked the 138th of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, which was published by the World Economic Forum and took into account factors including access to health care, education, and political representation. On that same list, Iran came in at 140th — meaning only in four countries do women have it worse than in Iran. 

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including goal number five — gender equality — and is calling on world leaders to prioritize girls’ education. You can take action on this issue here.  

Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran has had female foreign ambassadors before, including Switzerland’s Leu Agosti, who in 2009 became the first woman to be stationed in Iran since the country’s 1979 revolution, which replaced the US-backed shah with an Islamic cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. 

Read More: Women in Iran Are Wearing White to Protest the Forced Wearing of Hijabs

In Iran, women are not allowed to watch or play sports, according to Human Rights Watch. In addition to that, they must wear the traditional Islamic veil, and don’t have custody over their children, US News reports

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Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has made several strides in recent months to give women more rights. Along with allowing women to drive cars without the permission of a male relative, on Monday, the country announced that women would be allowed to drive motorcycles and trucks, as well.

There remains much to be done in order to ensure proper representation. Women in Saudi Arabia still cannot travel alone, work, or mix with members of the opposite gender. 

Let’s hope that the appointment of Mineur can help push the country closer to unraveling these systems of oppression in 2018.