September 27, 2017
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Women in Saudi Arabia will be able to get behind the wheel as of next summer, following a landmark royal decree allowing women to drive — but they are still likely to be told to get a man's permission to buy a car.
Here is a look at some of the hurdles women still face in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom:
Under Saudi Arabia's interpretation of Islamic law, a male guardianship system bars women from traveling abroad, obtaining a passport, marrying or even leaving prison without the consent of a male relative. This consent is also often demanded whenever a woman tries to do any number of things, including rent an apartment, buy a car, undergo a medical procedure, open a bank account or take a job. As a result, women are practically consigned to the status of minors for their entire lives. No other Muslim country enforces such strict guardianship measures.
There are no women in charge of government ministries in Saudi Arabia and there has been no woman ruler since the kingdom's founding in 1932. Saudi women can, however, run and vote in local elections though ultimate power resides with the throne. The same day as the driving decree, Saudi Arabia also announced its first spokeswoman for its embassy in Washington, a high-profile role.
Saudi Arabia's enforcement of gender segregation means women cannot attend sporting matches or sit in restaurants that do not have separate "family" sections. These rules also impact the ability of some employers to hire women where segregated office spaces are not available. Privately, the segregation rules often relegate women to the home unless a male relative, such as a father or brother, is available to escort them outside. Many conservative families also bar male cousins from seeing their female cousins past childhood age.
Women in Saudi Arabia must wear long, loose robes known as abayas in public. Most also cover their hair and face with a black veil, though exceptions are made for visiting dignitaries.
If a woman divorces her husband, she cannot travel abroad with their children without the permission of the father, who remains the children's legal guardian. Women cannot provide consent for their daughters to marry, or pass their nationality to their children. Women also are not afforded equal inheritance rights nor are they guaranteed custody of children after the age of 7 or 8 years old.