Five things Saudi women still can't do

Five things Saudi women still can't do
Despite Saudi Arabia announcing a ban on women driving will be lifted next year, there are still many other restrictions that impede their daily lives.
3 min read
27 Sep, 2017
Saudi women face many restrictions, some legally enforced [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has lifted its controversial ban on women driving in the kingdom, state media announced on Tuesday evening.

From June 2018, Saudi women should be able to obtain driving licenses and take to the kingdom's roads, Saudi Press Agency said on Twitter.


While many have rejoiced at the news, others have opened up many other issues that still plague the kingdom.

Some have said the news makes it an opportune time to address inherent racism in the campaign behind the movement to advance women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

The reform does not mean women in Saudi Arabia are now emancipated from the clutches of patriarchy.

Here are five things that Saudi women still cannot do in the kingdom:

1. Wear whatever they want

Women in Saudi Arabia must wear long, loose robes known as abayas in public. Many also cover their hair and face with a black veil, although exceptions are made for visiting dignitaries.

In July, a model briefly arrested by Saudi authorities after a video went viral showing her walking through Saudi Arabia wearing a miniskirt in a public place.

2. Interact with men

What is often referred to as "free mixing" between the sexes is not allowed in Saudi Arabia. The restrictions, however, fall most heavily on women.

Women have separate entrances for public buildings - including universities, offices and banks - making matters more tedious and endorsing the hyper-sexualisation of their presence.

3. Travel without permission of a male guardian

In May, Saudi King Salman al-Saudi was at the centre of praise when guardianship laws were relaxed.

But restrictions remain in place that severely restrict Saudi women's rights to leave their home county. This is especially problematic in matters of domestic abuse, where the Saudi embassy have collaborated with foreign governments to force runaway women back into the kingdom.

4. Walk freely without being harassed by morality police

Street harassment is a universal problem for women, but for women in Saudi Arabia it reaches to new levels.

So-called morality police - otherwise referred to as religious police - in Saudi Arabia are quick to probe women on what they are wearing and how they act in public.

The restrictions are designed to enforce "modest" behaviour in the public sphere. 

In 2014, the morality police, questioned women on a beauty pageant being organised. Saudi authorities banned the event. Yet since then, some reforms have been implemented to curb their powers.

5. Treat a male patient

Women doctors are not allowed to treat male patients. Despite this, male doctors are allowed to treat female patients depending on the consensus of the woman's guardian.

Needing guardian permission before saving lives has actually cost lives. In 2002, 15 schoolgirls died in a fire at their dormitory after religious police prevented male fire-fighters from rescuing them from the building.