What Saudi women can & can't do
Women in Saudi Arabia are among the most oppressed in the world - the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report ranks Saudi Arabia 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity.
Women in Saudi Arabia are among the most oppressed in the world - the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report ranks Saudi Arabia 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity. But they have been making significant gains in the past couple of years, particularly under the late King Abdullah. Here, we list some of the advances they have made, as well as some rights they continue to be denied. (Getty Images) Can: Thirty women became the first members of the king’s influential advisory body, the Shoura Council, in 2013, taking their seats alongside 120 men. The women, which include university graduates, human rights activists and princesses, also were appointed to Shoura Council committees later in the year, further boosting their influence. (Getty Images) Can: The late King Abdullah also announced in 2011 that women would be allowed to vote and stand as candidates in the next local elections, to be held in December. (Getty Images) Can: Women have gradually been allowed to enter the public workforce, in specific industries, including women’s retail shops, pharmacies and government-run, women-only factories – a new initiative specifically to give women greater employment opportunities. (Getty Images) Can: The Saudi Passports Department announced in January 2014 it would make an electronic system that warns Saudi men when their female “dependents” are leaving the kingdom optional, in what was seen as an historic move towards greater female independence. (Getty Images) Can: Saudi women have been gradually given greater access to education and now account for at least half of all university graduates in Saudi Arabia. Female literacy also is now estimated to be 91 percent – although lower than male literacy it is far higher than in recent decades. (Getty Images) Can: Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shaherkani became the first women to represent Saudi Arabia in a sport, at the London Olympics in 2012. However, women still have limited access to sports education and are banned from attending stadiums to watch sporting events such as football. (Getty Images) Can’t: Women in Saudi Arabia do not have access to any legally available contraception, morning-after pill or abortion services, limiting their choice on whether or not to have children. (Getty Images) Can’t: Saudi women’s fight to be allowed to drive in the kingdom has caused international headlines. There is no law banning women from driving, but tradition means they are usually “arrested” by the conservative religious police if they do so. Ongoing campaigns have highlighted the issue, while some women have made a mockery of the rule by obtaining driver’s licences in other countries. (Getty Images) Can’t: The Shoura Council in April rejected a proposal to allow women to serve abroad as ambassadors. The proposal was made by Lubna Al Ansari, one of the 30 women members of the council. She recommended women be appointed to key positions in the Kingdom’s administrative, financial and technical fields as well as in diplomatic missions abroad, Saudi Gazette said. (Getty Images) Can’t: Saudi women are not allowed to travel without the consent of their male guardian, usually their father or husband. An electronic system that warns Saudi men when their female “dependents” are leaving the kingdom was made optional last year but the option would be decided by the male, who presumably would have already consented to his dependent leaving the kingdom, therefore making the announcement redundant. (Getty Images) Can’t: Saudi women have limited legal rights, including in relation to buying and selling property and controlling their personal finances. In most cases they require multiple men to support their investments by testifying to their identity in court, creating a complicated and sometimes expensive process. (Getty Images) Can’t: Saudi women still have limited professional choices within the kingdom. While many have university degrees and other qualifications, they can only work in those professions with the permission of their male guardian, usually their father or husband.
\nIn May 2014, the Saudi Labour Ministry banned women from working between 11pm and 9am, Arab News reported. The decision “ensures that women don’t begin work too early and don’t work after streets become empty”, the newspaper said.
\nThe International Labor Organization estimates less than 20 percent of the native Saudi workforce are women.