Human rights in Saudi Arabia, particularly those protecting women, has constantly been disputed.
It is true women in this Muslim country has gained ground in the last few years, but apparently, the progress is going really slow. Just last year, women could vote for the first time in municipal elections, but being a woman in Saudi Arabia is still hard.
It has been said women from this country has more restrictions than rights, and it’s true. For example, a woman can’t open a bank account without the explicit permission from his husband.
In Saudi Arabia exists a conservative society, it has many customs dictated by Wahhabi laws –the main Muslim branch-, these customs are radical and directly attack people’s freedom, especially women’s freedom.
Let’s see some example of all that a woman is not allowed to do, under the risk of facing severe penalties as jail, corporal punishment, and even death.
Leave home without a male guardian
All women must have a male guardian. We are talking about the father, brother, husband or even a son, in the case of a widow. Is necessary for a woman a signed permit to get married, open a bank account, travel, etc. She can’t go out without the company of her guardian.
Anything that affects the “honor” of her guardian
Wahhabi laws clearly establish that if a woman does something to dishonor her guardian, he can and must punish her. The curious fact about it is that the guardian’s honor could be “hurt” very easily. Anything a woman does or says that doesn’t mean obeying without hesitation could be considered a dishonor. In August of 2007, a man killed his daughter after discovering she chatted with a man on Facebook. These cases of “defense of honor” or “honor killings” are more frequent that of one can imagine.
Show any part of her body
According to the Sharia Law (the Islamic law), a Muslim woman must cover certain parts of her body, because those parts are considered immoral or provocative. Depending on the Islamic branch, this law could be more or less strict. In some provinces of Saudi Arabia, a woman can only show her eyes and hands. Also, she can’t wear clothes or makeup that “show off her beauty”.The religious police severely punish women who break these rules.
Be alone in a zone that is not women-exclusive
Everywhere and in many daily aspects exist separated zones for men and women. There are different entries, lines, rooms, etc., to minimize the contact with the opposite sex. Only at this public places and women-exclusive areas, women can be without her guardian.
Work or study what she wants
It’s not forbidden for women to work, but they are encouraged not to do any remunerated activity. Since kids, Arab women are educated in the belief that her position at society is raising children, taking care of the house and attending the family. Law bans most careers and professions.
Practice any sport
Practice a sport, even using the mandatory clothing, was forbidden for women until 2008. Nowadays it is just frowned upon, and women who dare to practice a sport are labeled as prostitutes. Until 2012 Olympic Games, Saudi Arabia had not had female representation at any discipline. The first Arabian women in history to participate at Olympics represented Saudi Arabia at judo and athletism.
Drive a car
Women mobility is very limited. Even if there’s not an explicit law forbidding women to drive cars, that doesn’t stop most religious leaders to say it “undermines social values”. Some even claim that driving and infidelity are closely related.
A Saudi “journalist” dared to suggest that women should only drive to take their children to school, or to take a familiar to the hospital, but that’s it. “Women should accept simple things”.
Use public transportation
Since a woman can’t go out without company from her guardian, she can’t use any public transportation. Some trains have wagons exclusive for women, but they must arrive accompanied by a man and leaving the same way.
Choose a husband
Forced or arranged marriages were officially forbidden in 2015, but this prohibition means nothing to Saudis. This kind of practice continues openly every day. The situation complicates even more because it doesn’t exist a law establishing the minimum age to get married. Many religious leaders claim girls should marry before reaching puberty, around 9 years old, and men at 15.
Recover her freedom
Until a few months ago, the religious police of Saudi Arabia could incarcerate a woman for basically anything. Imposing entirely arbitrary and disproportionate penalties, this was just the beginning of the nightmare.
When a woman serves a given sentence for doing anything as talking to a stranger, wearing inappropriate clothes, breaking a social rule, she could only get her liberty back after finishing the whole sentence, if her guardian decides taking care of her.
Severe offenses to the guardian’s honor are a serious matter, and many of them ask to extend the sentence or women are just left abandoned.