The restricted list for women in Saudi Arabia is updated after a woman visited a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh. A sign was placed on the shop’s store that said: “No entry for ladies here, kindly send your driver or husband to order. Thank you.” Women claimed that they are not allowed to enter any branch of Starbucks in Riyadh by themselves.
A non- Saudi woman who took a picture of the paper that was placed on the coffee shop’s door; claimed that she was not allowed to enter for an espresso because she is a woman and the waiter asked her to send a man instead. Therefore, men and women are separated in almost all public places and stores, while the Saudi religious police make sure that such laws are enforced on the public. “Unlawful mixing between sexes leads to the arrest of the violators and criminal charges,” political scientist Elham Manea writes for Deutche Welle.
Although women’s rights in this country have extended last year, that allowed women to vote for the first time but their actions are still investigated and restricted from the government. Women have been elected councils in Saudi Arabia for the first time that was held on a Saturday. At least 18 women from very different parts of the country have been elected, according to Al Jazeera statistics. The elections were the first time women were actually allowed to stand for a vote, after a ban that was made by King Abdullah shortly before his death last year. Officials mentioned that about 130,000 women had registered to vote in what was only the third time Saudis of either gender have gone to the polls in the country’s history. In a country where a woman cannot even open a bank account without her husband’s permission or any male member from the family, here are other things that women are restricted from doing:
- Going anywhere without a chaperon: Saudi women must be accompanied with a male guardian which is also known as a mahram at any time they leave the house. The male guardian is usually a male relative who will accompany women on all of their trips, including shopping, visits to the doctor and visits to her parents. Such practices and restrictions are held in “conservative traditions and religious views that freezes the freedom of movement for women and which would make them vulnerable to sins,” according to The Guardian. In an extreme case, a ten age girl reported that she had been raped; but because she was not with a mahram when the incident happened, she was punished by the court by giving her more lashes than the rapist received. The government also announced that it considered lifting more restrictions on women which might allow women to travel without an approval of male relatives, but the human rights groups warned that this move might be vetoed by the senior clerics.
- Driving a car: No official law that bans women from driving but is deeply held as religious beliefs prohibit it where Saudi clerics undermine social values. In 2011, groups of Saudi women organized “Women2Drive” campaign which encouraged women to step on the law and posted images of themselves driving on the social media to raise awareness of the attempt to change the laws that are raised against women and make a change for them; unfortunately, this attempt ended in a major fail. Later, Saudi a journalist wrote to Arab News that women can be allowed to drive in only two cases, if they had to take the children to school or visit a sick member in the hospital. He also added: “Women should accept simple things. This is a wise thing that women can do in this stage and they must not be stubborn.”
3. Wearing clothes or make-up that show off their beauty: The dress code is governed with a strict interpretation by the Islamic Law and is enforced on various decrees in the countries. The majority of the women are forced to wear abaya which is a long black cloak and a had scarf. Therefore, the face does not have to be covered, but this does not stop the religious police from harassing women for exposing too much flesh or wearing a lot of make up. This dress code was extended to all female television presenters earlier this year. The King had an advisory body that ruled women and should wear modest clothes that do not show off their beauty.
4. Interaction with men: Women are required to limit the amount of hours spent with non-related males. Most of the majority of public buildings, including offices, banks and universities have seperate entrances for women and men. Also, public transportation, parks and amusement parks are segregated in almost all parts of the country. Unlawful gender mixing leads to criminal charges against both sexes, but women face harsher punishments.
5. Swimming: A Reuters correspondent descried her experience when trying to use the gym and the swimming pool at a hotel in Riyadh. She said: “I was not allowed to look when men were in their swimsuits,” a hotel staffer told her with fear.
6.Sports competitions: Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia hosted Olympic Games without women because when Saudi athletes were sent to London for the first time, the hard line clerics denounced women as “prostitutes”. When they were allowed to compete, they had to be accompanied with a male guardian and wear a Sharia compliant sports kit that covered their hair.
7.Trying on clothes in shops: the thought of undressed women behind dressing rooms is too much for Saudi men to handle.
Other unusual restrictions:
Buying a barbie.
Entering a cemetery.
Reading uncensored magazines.
However, everything in Saudi Arabia operates on a sliding scale, which depends on who you are, who you know, who you ask, who you with and where you are. But things are slowly starting to modernize in a country which historically had the most repressive attitudes towards women.