Women’s Rights in Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia has seen tremendous strides in women’s rights throughout the past decade. There are a few notable areas of progress toward women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. However, the incarceration of female activists points to the lack of progression in women’s rights.

Progress of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

  1. Having ID Cards: To many, the era of female progress in Saudi Arabia began in 2013 when the government began requiring women to have their own ID cards. Previously, many women had simply been listed as a dependant on their father or husband’s card. Thus, it required a male figure to prove their identity during many transactions. While this practice largely continued, women welcomed their IDs as a symbol of independence.
  2. Freedom to Choose Attire: The following years also saw a loosening of decades-old modesty requirements for Saudi women. In 2017, the government prohibited the country’s religious police, the principal enforcers of modesty rules, from arresting or detaining the public. In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reinforced this progressive sentiment, telling CBS, “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a [traditionally required] black abaya or a black headcover.” The Crown Prince also talks about letting women decide what they choose to wear.
  3. The Right to Drive: Saudi female autonomy saw another great victory in 2018 when the nation lifted its infamous ban on female driving. This landmark decision was part of the Crown Prince’s plan to revitalize the Saudi economy. He hopes to bring more women into the workforce. According to the United Nations Development Programme 2018 Human Development Reports, 23.4% of Saudi women ages 15 and older participated in the labor force that year. This is a figure Salman hopes to increase significantly by 2030.
  4. Lift Permission From Male Guardian: In 2019, many once again heralded the Crown Prince for his reform. Under a new law, women in Saudi Arabia no longer needed permission from a male guardian to travel. They could also apply for passports, and register and receive official documents for a marriage, birth or divorce.

Challenges of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

Many have hailed the Saudi government for these progressive developments. In addition, the Crown Prince has earned a reputation as a progressive creating a new Saudi Arabia. However, amid years of loosening restrictions, outspoken Saudi women have continued to face persecution. Most famously, women’s rights activists Loujain Al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aisha al-Mana, Aziza al-Yousef and Madeha al-Ajroush were arrested in 2018. The activists are allegedly sexually abused and tortured for their activism and open criticism of Saudi Arabia. As of August 2020, they continue to await trial in a Saudi prison.

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia thus continue to reflect the country’s conflicting traditional and progressive values. Some view the Crown Prince’s reform as a mere distraction from an overarching culture that views women as property. As Lina al-Hathloul, the sister of the incarcerated activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, told TIME in May, Saudi Arabians are struggling to define what falls in line with these values. “Now we don’t have the religious police and we have concerts,” she said. Lina al-Hathloul mentioned that under the new public decency law, the police can arrest and imprison women for dancing at a concert.

According to the Crown Prince’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan, progress and reform in Saudi Arabia have just begun. Imprisoned activists and blurred boundaries ensure that even with the rights granted in recent years, Saudi women will enter this decade of advancement with caution.

Stella Pagkas
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s biggest oil supplies and is also home to the holy Mecca. However, Saudi Arabia also has one of the most oppressive regimes, comparatively speaking. Women’s rights in Saudia Arabia are close to being non-existent. Although women in Saudia Arabia have been granted certain basic rights, there is a long way to go. Here is a history of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Early History

Saudi Arabia is a predominately Islamic nation and the law system follows Sharia law. Ever since the Iranian Revolution, laws against women in Saudi Arabia have been stricter. In the early 50’s, Saudi Arabia finally opened a school that focused exclusively on girls. Then, 20 years later, women in Saudi Arabia could attend college as well.

It would not be until three decades later that women would see more changes in Saudi laws. When women received personal licenses, their ownership of such licenses was not as it is in European or American nations, for example. Women’s guardians received the identification cards on behalf of the woman. In the following years, Sharia law and government played a key role in the development of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. These structures forced women into marriage, domestic abuse was a wide-spread issue and basic human rights eroded, year after year. Women started to see a change in the 2000s and 2010s with the enrollment of females elected into the government. Furthermore, women could vote in 2015 and the driving ban ceased in 2018.

Women’s Rights Since 2018

Women in Saudi Arabia do not have certain freedoms that may seem trivial to most women around the world. In 2019, it became legal to allow women to obtain passports or to travel without the permission of a male guardian. Though these reforms do not completely solve the oppression women face, they are a step in the right direction. These reforms allow a sense of freedom to women.

Saudi Arabia is gradually moving closer to removing its “guardianship system” that subjects women’s rights to their male relatives. A new regulation includes the right for a women’s hiring without the need for a male guardian’s permission. Notably, the law is intended to target and ban employment discrimination laws.

One of the biggest changes for women in Saudi Arabia is allowing women to be able to register their children’s births. Previously, a male guardian or the father of the child did this act. Human rights changes such as these in Sharia law allow for women to be looked at as equal and as “heads of the household”.

Celebrating the Victories But Eyeing the Future

These regulations are a positive step towards empowering women and providing them with more opportunities for leadership roles. Much progress remains, in terms of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia as the women lack many pivotal rights and liberties afforded to men. However, progress deserves celebration and these new regulations have given women freedoms they previously did not enjoy.

– Hena Pejdah
Photo: UN Multimedia

Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, human rights are based off the Hanbali Islamic religious laws, which are under absolute rule of the Saudi royal family. Due to the strict regime of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, human rights in the nation have been ranked some of the worst in the world. However, due to a recent change of power, progress has been made in terms of human rights, especially for women. Here are 10 facts about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Facts About Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

  1. On June 24, 2018, women gained the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman lifted the ban due to his 2030 Vision to have women ascend ranks in the workforce. Women 18 and older are able to now apply for a driver’s license, and driving lessons are offered by instructors that can even be women who obtained their license abroad.
  2. Male guardianship is a huge issue in Saudi Arabia. Every women has to have a “male guardian” that can be a husband, brother, father or son. These male figures have the authority to make decisions on the women’s behalf and decide if she can apply for a passport, get married, travel or leave prison. However, on April 2017, King Salman removed this restriction and gave women access to any government service without a “guardian” (unless it interferes with existing regulations). 
  3. Dress code is a strict part of the Islamic law, and women have traditionally been restricted against wearing makeup or clothes that show off their beauty. Instead, they have to wear some kind of opaque cloak to cover their body which does not prevent them from being harassed on the daily by religious police for being too “revealing”or wearing too much makeup.  
  4. Torture and other cruel treatments of detainees in Saudi Arabia are common practices. In fact, many human right defenders and critics of the system have been sent to prison or unfair treatment for their protestations, such as when authorities passed the “Counter-Terrorism” law.
  5. Competing freely in sports has been a struggle for women in Saudi Arabia. In 2015, Saudi Arabia proposed hosting the Olympics but without any women. When Saudi Arabia sent women to the Olympics in London in 2012, two of the women were labeled as “prostitutes,” had to cover their hair and be accompanied by a guardian. However, in September 2017, the national stadium in Saudi Arabia welcomed female spectators, but they were assigned their own section in the typically male-only venue.
  6. Discrimination exists for Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority. This Islamic sect faces prejudice that limits their right to express their belief, work and access state services. In fact, many of the Shi’a activists are continuously arrested, imprisoned and even killed.
  7.  Freedom of expression, association and assembly is a problem in Saudi Arabia as well. Authorities still continue to harass writers, online commentators, activists or anyone who express their views against government policies.
  8. Women still have restrictions on interacting with men. Women are required to limit the amount of time they spend with men who are not related to them. There are even separate entrances and exits for women and men in a majority of buildings, offices, universities and more. A person can be criminally charged if caught breaking this rule.
  9. Male and female swimming pools, spas and gyms are all separate. However, the Crown Prince aims to make Saudi Arabia more appealing for tourists and investors and is thus planning to create a resort that allows gender-mixing bathing, bikinis and alcoholic beverages.
  10. The death penalty in Saudi Arabia is still a major problem. The courts in Saudi Arabia still impose the death penalty for a variety of crimes. Many defendants that were sentenced to death were seen to have unfair trials, and cases have even occured where authorities fail to inform the families of their relatives’ executions.

Creating Change, One Supporter At a Time

Human rights in Saudi Arabia appear to be improving due to the 2030 Vision; however, there is still a long way to go. Continuous support from protestors and other countries is crucial for creating change in Saudi Arabia.

– Negin Nia
Photo: Flickr