As women's rights proliferate throughout the Western world, gender equality appears stronger than ever. Many laws have banned sex discrimination in the workplace and starting a family while balancing a professional life has never been easier for working female professionals. With that being said, it's always a great shame to know that not every woman is granted such fundamental rights.
Take the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a startling example. Ruled by King Salman, the Head of State has been hard-pressed to balance the demands of modernising Saudi's oil-driven economy without upsetting the religious demographic who follow one of the strictest forms of Islam, known as Wahhabism. And though one could point to some progress within the Kingdom when Saudi women gained the right to vote in 2013, many observers believe such changes are more an appeasement to Western criticism as opposed to any genuine intention to modernise their values.
With such political and cultural differences in mind, we'll chronicle 15 everyday things that women in Saudi Arabia cannot do.
1. Drive a car
While there's no official law banning women from driving, the cultural values of the Kingdom do not permit it, arguing that female drivers, "undermine social values." However, various campaigns have protested against the sexist ban since the 1990s, and though the outcome many had hoped for has yet to come to fruition, women can now drive their child to school or a family member to the hospital.
2. Interact with men
Very much like segregation, women are not allowed to communicate with a male stranger, no matter where the setting is. It's for these reasons that universities, banks, modes of transportation and beaches are often segregated for both men and women, and anyone found breaching such rules is usually susceptible to a harsh prison sentence or public lashing. However, judging by previous cases, the woman is treated more harshly.
3. Compete freely in sports
When Saudi women were first allowed to compete at the Olympic Games in 2012, the moral uproar it caused in their homeland led many to label the women "prostitutes" due to their beliefs that woman should not participate in any sport. As such, those who were brave enough to compete and go against the long-winded rants of their countrymen were forced to have a male guardian accompanying them as well as wear a "Sharia-compliant" sports kit that covered their hair.
4. Enter a cemetery
Even if your loved ones have perished, it is unlikely, such is the social norm in Saudia Arabia, that you will be allowed to visit their graves. At least, that's what Vanity Fair writer Maureen Dowd discovered when she asked if she could visit Eve's (of Bible fame) supposed grave for her piece, "A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia." “Women are not allowed to go into cemeteries,” her tour guide told her.
5. Try on clothes in a changing room
Continuing with Dowd's piece, the journalist also noted her guide's shock when asked if she could try a piece of clothing on. Describing his reaction, and that of many other men, she wrote, "The mere thought of a disrobed woman behind a dressing-room door is apparently too much for men to handle."
However, it could have been a lot worse for Dowd. If she had visited the country pre-2012 and wished to browse around a lingerie shop, her experience would have been highly uncomfortable. The reason? Only men could be employed. Thankfully, in 2012, King Abdullah finally put an end to the red faces of women and ruled that men working in places selling female garments should not be allowed.
6. Open a bank account without a male guardian
Though Saudi Arabia has seen a welcome increase in women starting their own businesses and even running in local elections, they continue to be thwarted in their rights for complete freedom due to men still being needed for even the simplest of tasks, such as opening a bank account.
7. Walk outside uncovered
While men can pretty much wear whatever they want in a country that regularly reaches searing temperatures of 40 degrees+, women are forbidden from dressing in anything other than a traditional, full body-length robe. In fact, only their eyes and hands are allowed to show and any woman showing more flesh than permitted can expect to be dealt with by the strict religious police, who are known as the "Mutaween”.
Although the freedom to experiment in fashion is not off-limits for women. Robes come in a variety of different patterns and colours, and some even have cartoon characters stitched onto the back.
8. Wear clothes or makeup highlighting their beauty
Following a strict interpretation of Islamic law, women are seen as the object of lust and desire and are only safe when in the confines of their husbands home. What's more, women are expected not to flaunt any signs of beauty in public, and even the faintest of mascara or eye shadow can result in a stern telling off from the Mutaween. Even television presenters, according to The Economist, are now required to dress conservatively and wear the hijab after one female presenter caused outraged when she presented the news without one.
9. Go anywhere without a male chaperone
Saudi women must always be accompanied by a male companion, who are known as 'Mahrams.' Usually, the Mahram will be a relative or husband who accompanies the woman on any outside trips, whether that be to the mall or a visit to the doctors. And though many argue that the safety a Mahram offers outweigh the dangers that come from a woman being outside alone, a recent case highlighted the injustice woman face- even in cases where they have been severely attacked.
One such case centred around a lone woman who was gang-raped by a bunch of male thugs. However, the Sharia court judgment sentenced the woman to more lashes than her attackers simply because she admitted to being without a Mahram at the time of the attack.
10. Go for a swim
Due to the strict dress codes women must follow, cooling down for a swim is often impossible unless you happen to have one in your house. Reporting on the issue, Reuters journalist Arlene Getz recited her experience when swimming in a communal pool located in her Riyadh hotel. "As a woman, I wasn't even allowed to look at them ('there are men in swimsuits there,' a hotel staffer told me with horror) — let alone use them," she said.
11. Vote to the same extent as men
2015 was the first year that Saudi women could stand for or vote in municipal elections which gave them limited power in the council positions. Ultimate power still lies with the king of the country. Women cannot stand for or vote for higher positions of governance although the previous king did appoint 30 women to the country's top advisory Shura Council. While campaigning in the local elections, female candidates have had to speak behind a partition while campaigning or be represented by a man. There are very few elections within the country anyway, but things are slowly changing.
12. Buy a Barbie doll
Saudi censors deemed the toys 'immoral' due to their revealing clothes and provocative postures they represent excessive luxury so officially it is quite hard to get hold of them, although if you go to certain market places within the kingdom you can see shelves and shelves of them for sale.
13. Read uncensored fashion mags
Fashion is a complicated thing in a country where you are required to stay covered most of the time, and so fashion magazines are carefully edited and censored so that they do not represent many of their Western counterparts in order not to offend certain religious sensibilities.
14. Receive the same inheritance
Should someone die without a will, the law sees the estate portioned out between wife, family and children but female members of the family receive a smaller fraction than men as men are still seen as the head of the household, and it is they who will be taking charge of family affairs.
15. Marry without consent
Saudi women need their family's backing if they wish to marry someone so should they be disapproved of then a wedding simply isn't going to happen. Should they get married and then later want to have a divorce, they have a much harder time of it than men as the honus are on them to prove why the marriage is not working and quite often the law sides with the man.