December 19, 2017 / 5:07 PM / 6 months ago

Belgium becomes first country to appoint female ambassador to Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia, long criticized for its constraints on women, will get its first woman ambassador in Riyadh with the appointment of a female envoy from Belgium, according to reports in the Belgian media.

Belgium will send Dominique Mineur, currently the ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, to Riyadh next summer according to local news reports, making her the first woman ambassador in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is well known as one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, where women live under the supervision of a male guardian, and in public must wear head-to-toe garments.

Saudi Arabia was ranked 138 of 144 countries in the 2017 Global Gender Gap, a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in economic and political participation, health and education.

The deeply conservative Muslim kingdom has announced a raft of reforms recently including allowing women to drive cars, trucks and ride motorcycles next year, after being the only country in the world that banned women from being on the road.

Mineur’s appointment, in addition to reports that the European country will also send a female ambassador to Tehran, has not been officially announced by Belgium’s ministry of foreign affairs.

However, in a speech in Brussels on Monday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the decision to appoint female envoys to places like Tehran and Riyadh, “should have been obvious.”

“(It) is further evidence of the stakes of women’s rights in these countries, but above all of our willingness to send the most competent people to positions that are increasingly important on the international scene,” said Reynders.

Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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