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President Donald Trump listens as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a working lunch in the Cabinet Room of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP
Girls & Women

The US & Saudi Arabia Met — And Not a Woman Was In Sight

US President Donald Trump and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, met over lunch on Tuesday — noticeably missing from the table? Women.

Neither the Trump administration nor Prince Mohammed’s delegation included a single woman.

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And people have been quick to call out both sides for their lack of diverse representation. 

Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for its treatment of women and gender discriminatory policies, but despite having a restrictive male guardianship system in place, the Middle Eastern kingdom actually ranks higher than the US when it comes to female representation in parliaments, according to the World Economic Forum.

Women in Saudi Arabia have only been allowed to vote and run for office since 2015, but the country’s 20% quota for women in parliament has quickly increased their presence in its government.

In the US, women hold just 105 of 535 Congressional seats, though a record number of women are running for office this year, NPR reported.

Over the past year, Prince Mohammed has spearheaded sweeping social and economic reforms in Saudi Arabia as part of the “Vision 2030” plan, including incremental improvements in women’s rights. In a recent interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the prince said that he believes women are “absolutely” equal to men, surprising many with the strong statement.

Read more: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Says Women Are 'Absolutely' Equal to Men

But actions speak louder than words.

The absence of women on both sides of the table during Tuesday’s meeting showed that neither the US nor Saudi Arabia can claim to have full gender equality yet.

In Saudi Arabia, most restaurants are segregated by gender. Women are required to sit in designated “family” areas and use a different entrance, keeping them separate from all-male dining parties. This cultural practice is not mandated by the Muslim religion, but gender segregation in public and at meals has been practiced in Saudi Arabia since the 1980s as a result of a move toward stricter, more conservative interpretations of Islamic law.

As some have pointed out, it’s possible that women were not included at the lunch meeting because of this cultural practice; however, gender segregation typically places women in positions of lower priority and power and can be discriminatory against them.

The Trump administration has also been heavily criticized over its lack of diversity — both in terms of race and gender.

Improvements in women’s representation in politics around the world have been slow.

In the last two decades, the number of women in parliaments has doubled — but women still account for just over 20% of representatives, according to the World Economic Forum.

Experts have said that women’s participation in politics is key to developing more inclusive, peaceful, and equitable societies. Ensuring that women have a seat at the table helps to increase the diversity of voices and issues discussed at the table so that policies can effectively address the needs of all people.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of gender equality and women’s rights. You can take action here to empower women around the world, bringing us one step closer to a world where everyone is truly equal.