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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Cautious welcome for Saudi women's rights
A family day out in Riyadh
Women in Saudi are subject to a raft of restrictions
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

United Nations officials have welcomed a decision by Saudi Arabia to join a UN convention on women's rights.

The Saudi cabinet announced after a meeting on Monday that it had agreed to sign up to the treaty.

However, it said it would not abide by clauses that contradicted Islamic Sharia law.

A UN Children's Fund (Unicef) official in Saudi Arabia, Mufrah Mahmoud, welcomed the decision, but said that it was too early to say what practical difference it would make.

Tentative moves

Women in Saudi Arabia are subject to a raft of restrictions.

They must follow strict dress code, they are not allowed to drive and they need written permission from a male relative if they want to travel.

But change, albeit tentative, is afoot. There are, for example, growing numbers of successful Saudi businesswomen, who are of course, segregated.

And late last year, the government announced that it would allow women to have their own identity cards, although that has yet to be implemented.

But there is a crucial caveat to the Saudis' decision to join the UN convention on women's rights.

They say they will not abide by any clause that contradicts Islamic law - and that, as ever, is open to interpretation.

Saudi women may not find themselves in the driving seat yet.

But the regional director for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, said it was a big step forward for Saudi women that the authorities were considering the convention at all.

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04 Oct 99 | Middle East
Saudi women taste public life
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