RIYADH – A major shift in the policy of Saudi Arabia has been observed as the country celebrated its own first ever Women’s Day.

A three-day gathering was organized at the King Fahd Cultural Centre in the capital city, Riyadh from February 1 to 4. Speakers argued for women’s rights to drive and raised voice for an end to the male guardianship system in the country, international media reported.

Female members of the Saudi royal family were also present on the occasion, with Princess Al-Jawhara bint Fahd Al-Saud hosting a debate on the role of women in education.

Cultural Centre spokesperson Mohammed Al-Saif said, “We want to celebrate the Saudi woman and her successful role, and inform people of her achievements in education, culture and other walks of life”.

The kingdom has been centre of criticism for its restrictions for women as a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death in the country.

The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 134 out of 145 countries for gender equality. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving and are unable to get a driving licence.

The kingdom is planning to bring several cultural and economic reforms, known as Vision 2030 in its policies. However, the reforms have already been slammed by the country’s religious authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, who said giving legal cover to cinemas and concerts could lead to the “mixing of sexes” and “atheistic or rotten” influences.