The World’s Most Powerful Women: July 13

Jul 13, 2017

Saudi Arabia introduced another new reform on Tuesday as it works toward its Saudi Vision 2030, a plan laid out last year by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to diversify the economy and make life in the kingdom more enjoyable. Starting next academic year, it will allow girls at public schools to participate in physical education.

The announcement, reported by The New York Times, didn't specify what kinds of activities would be included in the classes, but stated that they'd comply with "the rules of sharia."

The kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam has largely barred women from participating in sports, unless their families permitted them to work out in private settings. But its restrictions on women's athletics have loosened in recent years with the government first formally allowing girls' sports in private school four years ago. In February, Saudi Arabia began issuing licenses for women-only gyms, which had previously operated informally under salon and spa licenses.

The kingdom has made other reforms, too, such as giving religious police a less prominent role, which has resulted in some women showing their hair, though they're still expected to dress in an abaya and a headscarf. It's also being less rigorous in applying the laws that prevent women from getting a job or seeking health care without male permission, and in May, King Salman ordered a review of some of those regulations. The kingdom's ban on female drivers, meanwhile, remains intact.

The changes are seen as efforts to boost the Saudi economy since fewer restrictions on women's daily lives could increase their workforce participation.

No matter the motivation, the introduction of women's physical education was welcomed by Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi academic who studies women’s history. "It is essential that girls around the kingdom have the opportunity to build their bodies, to care for their bodies and to respect their bodies,” she told the Times.

While this baby step toward bolstering women's rights should be cheered, the reality of enacting the change may be less worthy of celebration. Schools are segregated by gender in the kingdom, and Saudi universities do not train female gym instructors. Plus, most girls’ schools don't have sports facilities.

-@clairezillman

EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA

Making Mama Murray proud

After being ousted from the Wimbledon tennis tournament yesterday, Britain's Andy Murray corrected a journalist who said Murray's opponent Sam Querrey was "the first U.S. player to reach a major semi-final since 2009." "Male player," Murray was quick to say. After all, American Serena Williams has claimed 12 Grand Slam tournament titles since 2009. On Twitter, Murray's mother Judy beamed: "That's my boy." 

Fortune

Opening act

Pop star Madonna helped open Malawi's first-ever pediatric surgery and intensive care center at the Queen Central Hospital earlier this week. The project was funded by the singer's charity, Raising Malawi, that she founded in 2006. Four of Madonna's six children who attended the opening ceremony were adopted from the country.

People

A president intervenes

U.S. officials have reversed course to allow Afghanistan's girls robotics team to enter the country for an upcoming competition. President Donald Trump reportedly intervened in the case after the team's visa denial was criticized for sending the wrong message to the people of Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are fighting Taliban militants who once barred girls from attending school, and for undercutting the administration's stated goal of empowering women abroad.

Politico

THE AMERICAS

Fuzzy on the future

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was somewhat cagey yesterday when commenting on her future under Trump. She said she plans to serve out the rest of her term, which expires in February, but said she hasn't "had to give further thought" to whether she'd hold her position beyond then. When asked if she'd sign on for another four years if Trump asked her to, she said, “It’s certainly something I would have to discuss with the president, obviously."

Bloomberg

#ootd

After the hubbub last week over a Congressional dress code that bars sleeveless tops in some areas of the Capitol—which I argued is another arbitrary barrier for women trying to do their jobs—Congresswoman Martha McSally (R–Ariz.) made special mention of her wardrobe as she delivered remarks on the floor in an apparent effort to clarify for House Speaker Paul Ryan what qualifies as appropriate female dress. “Before I yield back, I want to point out, I’m standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes,” she said. “With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back.”

The Cut

No easy fix

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo weighed in on tech's bro culture yesterday, stating that the long-winded apologies of execs accused of sexual harassment and the "decency pledge" started by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman are not "sufficient" to fix the problem. A better resolution would be funneling money to women-run funds, he said.

Fortune

ASIA-PACIFIC

Unwelcome at home

Activist and former TV host Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who has called herself "the most publicly hated Muslim in Australia” and endured vitriol after defending Islam on a popular TV show, recently moved to London. She told BuzzFeed that she feels “a little bit betrayed by Australia.” She said: “And to, sort of, fight for your right to exist in your home country—it’s exhausting. Where do you go that’s safe, if not your home?”

BuzzFeed

Campaigning for contraception

A short Guardian documentary follows three women's health advocates as they try to promote the idea of family planning in the Philippines. The country passed a bill guaranteeing universal access to contraception in 2012, but misinformation is so rife that 65% of women there still don't use it. 

Guardian

IN BRIEF

Scotland is giving free sanitary products to women on low incomes

Evening Standard

Actress Jenny Slate hates being oversimplified

New York Times

Valerie Jarrett, a top Obama adviser, is working on a book

Associated Press

60% of women want employers to stop asking about salary history

Fortune

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