Saudi Arabia was recently elected as a member of the Executive Council of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the organization's entity focused on promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The kingdom will be an active member of the board for three years, starting 2019 until 2021.

According to the Saudi Gazette, the kingdom was elected during a meeting in New York for the United Nations Economic and Social Council on Monday.

"This reflects the support of the Saudi government for women's empowerment and the enhancement of their participation in all fields," a statement announcing the news read.

Following a secret ballot during the meeting, Saudi Arabia was one of 12 new countries elected to join the organization's executive board.

"Saudi Arabia looks forward to working alongside our fellow members starting in January 2019"

Following the news, Abdallah Al-Mouallami - the Saudi envoy to the UN - used the moment to highlight the country's ongoing efforts to improve status for women in the kingdom. 

"It's a token of appreciation of the kingdom's efforts to empower women and have them... become an integral part of Saudi society, and a recognition of the reform efforts led by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman," said Al-Mouallami, according to Arab News.

"This calls on us to underline women’s achievements in the kingdom and abroad at all levels."

Mixed reactions on social media

Following the official announcement, many were quick to criticize the decision. In 2017, Saudi Arabia ranked 138 out of 144 countries in 'The World Gender Gap Report' published by the World Economic Forum.

The decision comes nearly a year after Saudi Arabia was elected to the 54-member United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2017, which drew the ire of many commentators and watchdogs alike.

A secret ballot was held by the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), granting the kingdom a four-year term (2018 to 2022). 

One Saudi woman expressed disappointment in the decision in a tweet sent at the time.

"I wish I could find the words to express how I feel right know. I'm 'Saudi' and this feels like betrayal," she wrote.

The recent news also drew polarized reactions from users.

"How is that? Saudi women can't even pass citizenship to her child"

Some were at a loss for words...

While others hailed the decision, calling it as a "massive step"

"Hoping this is a step in the right direction"

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia

In recent years, the kingdom has amended a number of laws in an effort to empower women, including opening municipal elections to female candidates and making women's verbal consent to marriage mandatory. 

In September 2017, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving, ending the long-standing policy that has been heavily criticized since 1990. However, a number of needed reforms remain untouched. 

The kingdom's guardianship system is just one example.

Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system - which subjects women to full dependence on their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sometimes even sons, in nearly all aspects of public life - has received criticism over the years as it is a hindrance to women's progress.