I recently read a short essay on the role of women, published a Saudi business portal, SAMIRAD. It evoked laughter, followed by deep sympathy for Saudi women.
Under Islam, women are accorded respect and rights which, until relatively recent times, were denied to the vast majority of women in the West. Whether single or married, under Islam, women are considered individuals with their own inalienable rights.
And these are those “inalienable rights.”
Until 2008, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women weren’t allowed to drive, since the act would involve a removal, if not, of the entire abaya (the flowing, black, head-to-toe cloak) but certainly, the niqāb (the face veil.)
That, despite the fact that most women can’t afford to hire foreign drivers (whose salaries range from $300 to $600 a month, plus housing.) They can’t even hail a taxi. Doubtless, lifting the ban on driving was a landmark decision, a giant milestone on the road to securing women’s right, but ironically, it was only taken as a step to “stem a rising suffragette-style movement.”
Women weren’t permitted to vote in the country’s first nationwide elections, held in February 2005, the country’s first, since its inception in 1932. It was only later that year, in December, that two Saudi businesswomen were elected to the board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a local government agency.
This was the first time women had been on a ballot in Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post has reported that “[though] Saudi Arabia is considering allowing women to vote in municipal elections this year, they’d still be barred from running for office.”
They can’t leave their homes, without being chaperoned by a male family member—father, brother, husband, or son. Until January 2008, they couldn’t check into mixed-gender hotels by themselves. So, the government came up with a better plan—opening up a Sapphic paradise. An unescorted woman must shop behind curtains.
So, what is a woman permitted to do?