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Behind the veil

Often, our civilization wonders if the women of Saudi were always this suppressed. Were they?

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index1 ranks Saudi Arabia at 134. Clearly, in terms of women’s rights, Saudi has a long way to go. But images on the internet showing women having fun on the streets, shopping, treating themselves to picnics shock us, to say the least.

It might shock you further to know that you will find the best of brands in Saudi and the more, women are seen paying for the best of lingerie brands. It is fascinating to know that the highest cosmetic spends are in countries like Saudi and Iran.

Just that it is such a private society and so much of fun happens behind closed doors that it is not visible to the world out there. And what come out of this black hole are the stories of suppression.2

Of course, there is no smoke without fire. Is the fire that huge?

As they say, every religion, country and region has its set of traditions. If they are acceptable according to the current civilistion, there is no hullabaloo. However, the traditions are not acceptable or not understandable, the country is termed backward.

It is said that things have only improved in Saudi since history. The Saudi Gazette, a daily newspaper was in news for appointing the first female editor. So was the country’s first law firm in Jeddah, run by women and for women.

The Saudi conservative society is changing. Right from allowing women to cast their vote or fighting for their right to drive or not forcing them to cover their faces. While clothing and the veil is what is debated the most, there is a paradigm shift in all aspects of the society. While there is no law disallowing women from driving, religious fatwas have been issued, thus, it is not easy to obtain a license.

Interestingly, Saudi women are government by male guardians. That is to say that women need the permission of their men to obtain a passport, attend college, go abroad or get married. The government might abolish this rule of guardianship but culturally, it might take another decade for people to accept it. While more Saudi women are getting degrees, less than a quarter go out to work.

Given these circumstances, if the late King Abdullah could promise back in 2011 that women would be allowed to vote, it was indeed a sea change. For, the voice of women does count now. King Salman kept the promise, giving a real push to the reform mindset. About 130,000 women registered to vote falling short of the number of male voters at 1.35 million. It is a good start to begin with.

While there are no written laws prohibiting women in Saudi Arabia from living a free life, deeply held religious beliefs stereotype women and treat them in a certain unimaginable fashion.

Interestingly, Saudi women on social media are countering reports about them and terming them “misleading”. For us, that is also a sign of freedom—of speech! One lady had the freedom to protest a myth that Islam bans women from driving. To give her due respect, the first car was made in the 19th century and Islam originated in the 7th century. Can Islam technically address an issue like driving then?

While the two Saudi women detained for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers have been set free from custody, the women of the nation are yet to find their wings to fly to higher skies in various spheres of life.

Here is wishing more power to the women of the kingdom from all of us.

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This article was first published on BizDivas.in

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