19/03/2018 10:55 PM AEDT

Saudi Crown Prince's Claims About Gender Equality Don't Add Up

Mohammed bin Salman says he’s undoing decades of oppression, but women still lack equal rights.

POOL New / Reuters
As part of a tour of Western countries to promote the changes he's making in Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited the United Kingdom, where he met with Queen Elizabeth, March 7, 2018.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, says women and men are “absolutely” equal, even though he leads a country with some of the world’s strictest laws against women’s rights. 

“We are all human beings and there is no difference,” he told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday.

Bin Salman ascended to the role of crown prince in June, and began a fast-paced and at times controversial cultural and political overhaul. At the top of the list, he said, was doing away with policies that have prevented women from flourishing since Saudis imposed strict religious rule in 1979.

“We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries,” bin Salman said of the pre-1979 period. “Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere.”

He called the years since a “painful period that we cannot justify.”

Starting in June, women will legally be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Women can now watch sports games and go to the movies, join the military and are no longer required to wear a black abaya ― the robe that covers a woman’s body from head to toe ― in public. The government is working on an equal pay initiative, he added. 

Interviewer Norah O’Donnell pressed bin Salman on rights women are still denied, including the country’s guardianship laws that require women to ask permission from a male guardian to do things like apply for a passport or get married. Women also can’t eat in restaurants except in a designated family section or receive equal rights in court.

He acknowledged there’s more to be done. 

“Today, Saudi women still have not received their full rights,” he said. “There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don’t have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go.”

Bin Salman is on a tour of Western countries to promote his country and court investors. After visiting the U.K. last week, he will spend two weeks meeting political and business heads in Washington, New York and Silicon Valley.