Women Rights in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

The life of Saudi women is not as what rest of the world would think. Though compared to rest of the world, the rights given to Saudi women are limited and restricted, but many developments of their rights have taken place in the recent decades. Saudi stands 141 among 144 countries according to the Gender Global Gap report of World Economic Forum. The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) elected Saudi Arabia to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women for 2018–2022. What makes this happen?

How women in Saudi are different and segregated?

Many conservative Saudi women do not support loosening traditional gender roles and restrictions, on the basis that Saudi Arabia is the closest thing to an ‘ideal and pure Islamic nation,’ and under threat from ‘new introduced Western values’. A pathetic limitation to life of a Saudi women is the ‘Male Guardianship’. Under Saudi law, every female must have a male guardian. In 2014, a family (father, mother and a child) were traveling in car on Saudi Arabian roads. They were hit by a bus and the father died on spot and the mom and child were severely injured with their limbs cut off. No one even cared to call the hospital or help the small child and the helpless woman. The reason was that the guardian, who is their father, is dead! This is the Guardian System which they claim to be present in their tradition. Any woman should have their guardian’s permission for marriage and divorce, travel, education, employment, opening a bank account, access health care. As a part of tradition women are expected to wear the hijab (head covering), a full black cloak called an abaya, and a face-veil called niqab. Sex segregation is another issue which keeps wives, sisters and daughters from contact with stranger men, follows from the extreme concern for female purity and family honor. Most Saudi homes have different entrances for men and women. Non-related men to enter the women section of the house is a violation of family honor. In recent times women have got right to employment but her work must be suitable to her physique and mentality. They are allowed to work only in capacities in which they can serve women exclusively; there must be no contact and interaction with men. Women are discouraged from using public transportation and they must either travel with their guardian or hire a private taxi. Women in Saudi can be appointed to the Consultative Assembly but many are not encouraged to have a political life. Very few women in Saudi are seen with political background. Saudi women should have to produce two men to get their ID card approved. Inheritance share of women in Saudi is very less than what men are entitled.

Saudi women getting their rights

Saudi women have been gradually getting their rights in the past few decades. Women were first given education and employment opportunities. In the beginning of the 21st century, they were given their personal identity cards for the first time, these cards are the only way to prove who they are. Although, it was necessary that the guardian’s consent was taken before the issue of these ID card but, since 2006, women were allowed to get the ID card without the permission of the guardian. In 2009, the first ever female minister was appointed by the government, Noura al-Fayez became the deputy education minister for women’s affairs. Later, in 2012, Saudi agreed for the participation of females in the Olympics for the first time. Women of Saudi got their right to vote in municipal elections in 2015. They were also allowed to stand for the office from then, around 20 women were elected to municipal roles in absolute-monarchy that year. Recently, the Saudi government announced that women will be allowed to drive starting from June, 2018. Prior to this, women would require their guardian’s permission to seek a driving license and it was required that the male guardian be present while they drive. Women are now being allowed to be spectators for sport games at the stadium for the first time. Such changes in their lives are taking place and there are many more to come to reach gender equality and go far away from human rights violation set by the United Nations.

It is very important for Saudi Arabia to achieve the fifth sustainable development goal which is gender equality. The recent reforms imposed in the country is definitely a step forward to ease the restrictions imposed on Saudi women. But, the situation of women in Saudi is far worse when compared to other countries. Until recently, it was the only country which imposed restrictions on women from driving. There are several other things women in Saudi cannot do and one of the most important thing is that they are still not allowed to take decisions by themselves, without the permission of the male guardian. Women all over the world are capable to stand up for themselves and fight for themselves, imposing restrictions will only hold them back. All that needs to be done is to give them the rights they deserve and that can make all the change.

-Contributed by Neha & Vinitha

Picture Credits: arabnews.com

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