Despite Sweeping Changes, Women Still Lack Basic Rights In Saudi Arabia

Posted by Rohit Dhyani in GlobeScope, Sexism And Patriarchy
March 22, 2018

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has said that it is for women to decide whether to wear Abaya (head cover) or not. His statement on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia points towards a major change.

There have been many restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia, which is considered to be very conservative. Strict rules apply to their dress and behaviour. But recently there have been many concessions given to women. In an interview with American television channel CBS, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that women should be able to decide what they have to wear.

In the CBS “60 Minutes” show, the Saudi Crown Prince said, “The law is very clear and it is written in Sharia that women should wear gentle and respectful clothes, like men. It is not said anywhere that Abaya Body cloth covering head to toe or black masks should be worn.”

Women in Saudi Arabia cannot live without a man at home. If there are no men in the house, then a guard must be there. It is important to have a male family member to go out, whether to go to a doctor or buy a shop.

Austria is the latest country to ban the wearing of the burqa in public places. Apart from the burqa, many other items of clothing of Muslim women are often subjects of discussion.

Although Prince Mohammed’s statement seems to further promote women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, the way they insist on “gentle and respectful clothes” shows that Saudi women still will not have the freedom to wear their own clothes completely.

There is no written rule to implement Sharia law in Saudi Arabia. But the judiciary and the police have enforced strict rules regarding dresses. Under them, it is important for women to wear Abaaya and cover their face and hair in public places.

After his father Shah Salman, Prince Mohammad, 32, a descendant of Saudi Gaddi, made many major changes in Saudi Arabia. Among these, women have been allowed to sit with men and watch matches at the stadium. He has also allowed cinemas to be set up in the country for the first time in 35 years. But even now, Saudi women are deprived of many basic rights. Only a man – be it husband, father or brother – can take most important decisions related to women.

Women have to adhere to certain rules of clothing in order to get out of the house. Outbound clothing should not be tight. The whole body should be covered from head to toe, for which the burqa is considered suitable. Although there are no rules for covering the face, demand for it is intact.

It is not considered good for a woman to be associated with a man who is not related by blood. Most houses have separate entrances for men and women. There are also different arrangements for women and men in social spaces such as parks, beaches, and traffic. If they are found outside without permission, they may have to pay heavy compensation.

The Saudi government wants women to work. Many Saudi women are employed in traffic control and emergency call centres, apart from the retail sector. But at higher positions women are equal, and there are no special facilities for them in the office.

Women in Saudi Arabia can testify in court, but in some cases, their testimony is considered to be less than half of the men. For the first time in Saudi Arabia, a woman lawyer was licensed to practice in 2013.

It is difficult for people in Saudi Arabia to accept that women can also participate in sports. When Saudi Arabia sent women athletes to London for the first time in 2012, fundamentalist politicians called them “sex workers”. Many people do not consider sports good for women. Saudi Arabia sent four women players to the Rio Olympics.

There is no formal restriction that prevents women from buying or renting property in Saudi Arabia, but human rights groups say that it is very difficult to do this for a woman without a male relative.