Faceless Women of Saudi Arabia.

A few days ago I received a newsletter from MEMRI, a site everyone should subscribe to.  The newsletter was about a TV programme in Saudi Arabia concerning Saudi women and driving.  Truly mind boggling how the minds of Saudi men work.  The sheer ignorance is not believable.

It’s worse than the ‘dark ages’  when civil authorities burnt people ‘ at the stake’ judged to be heretics under the medieval Inquisition. Burning heretics was a customary practice in the latter half of the twelfth century in continental Europe.

During a TV show on the January 11, Saudi historian Saleh Al-Saadoon said that women should not be allowed to drive on the grounds that they might be raped if their car broke down on the roadside!

Saleh Al-Saadoon:

“Women used to ride camels, so one might ask what prevents them from driving cars. In Saudi Arabia, we have special circumstances. The city of Arar is 150 km away from Al-Jawf. If a woman drives from one city to another and her car breaks down, what will become of her?”


“Well, women drive in America, in Europe, and in the Arab world…”

Saleh Al-Saadoon:

“They don’t care if they are raped on the roadside, but we do…”


“Hold on, who told you that they don’t care about getting raped by the roadside?”

Saleh Al-Saadoon:

“It’s no big deal for them beyond the damage to their morale. In our case, however, the problem if of a social and religious nature.”

We hear little of women’s’ rights campaigners helping but according to the Daily Mail on Dec. 27.2014…

“Women’s rights campaigners who tried to drive into Saudi Arabia are to be sent to special ‘terrorism’ tribunal.”

Two women’s rights campaigners who tried to drive into Saudi Arabia are set to face a special ‘terrorism’ court, activists said.

Loujain Hathloul, 25, was arrested after she tried to drive into the country from neighbouring United Arab Emirates, flouting the ban on women motorists.

Maysaa Alamoudi, 33, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, arrived at the border to support Hathloul and was also detained. 

Activists claim that it is the first time female motorists have been referred to the criminal court in the capital of Riyadh, which was established to try terrorism cases.

The pair have now been held by the authorities since December 1, and their detention is thought to be the longest yet for any women who defied the driving ban.

Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan,  is a judicial adviser to an association of Gulf psychologists.

His comments reflect the extent of opposition to women driving among some conservatives in Saudi Arabia.

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards,” he told Sabq.

“That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”

He did not cite specific medical studies to support his arguments. Probably because there aren’t any !

As I was ready to post this article the following came in a news feed from the International Business News ..co-incidental!

Saudi Arabia frees two women after 73 days in jail for driving

Lujain al-Hathloul tried to defy the Saudi driving ban on women by driving into the Kingdom from UAE on 1 December 2014. She was arrested together with activist Maysaa al-Amoudi – Twitter

Two women have been freed after spending more than two months in jail for flouting a ban on women driving in the Kingdom.

Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysaa al-Amoudi were arrested last December and spent 73 days in prison.

Hathloul was arrested shortly after she documented her attempt to defy the ban, claiming that her driving licence, from the United Arab Emirates, could also be used in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Amoudi entered Saudi Arabia by car from the UAE shortly after the arrest, to support Hathloul by delivering food, water and a blanket. She was then arrested too.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

The two activists were investigated without being allowed to see a lawyer, which is a violation of Saudi law, Amnesty warned. 

It is not yet clear whether the charges have been dropped.

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are limited in comparison to many of its neighbors. The World Economic Forum 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity.  All women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian.  Yet many conservative Saudi women do not support loosening traditional gender roles and restrictions, on the grounds that Saudi Arabia is the closest thing to an “ideal and pure Islamic nation,” and under threat from “imported Western values”

The Gender gap index world map for 2013[9] Credit: M Tracy Hunter
According to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, two “key” conservative Islamic “concepts” that curtail women’s rights in Saudi are

  • sex segregation, justified under the Sharia legal notion of ‘shielding from corruption’ , and
  • women’s alleged `lack of capacity`  which is the basis of the necessity of a male guardian whose permission must be granted for travel, medical procedures, obtaining permits, etc.
Under Saudi law, all females must have a male guardian usually it’s the father, brother or husband .  Girls and women are forbidden from travelling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians.

Women may need their guardian’s permission for:

  • marriage and divorce;
  • travel, if under 45;
  • education;
  • employment;
  • opening a bank account;
  • elective surgery, particularly when sexual in nature.
In 2012 the Saudi Arabian government introduced a new policy to help with the enforcement on the travelling restrictions for women.
If a woman leaves the country, the man whose custody she is under, receives a text message to inform him, even if she happens to be travelling with her guardian, so he knows where she is at all times.
Saudi Arabian feminist activist Manal al-Sharif commented that
“this is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned”.

Saudi activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider agrees that most Saudi men are caring, but

“it’s the same kind of feeling they have for handicapped people or for animals. The kindness comes from pity, from lack of respect.”

She compares male guardianship to slavery:

The ownership of a woman is passed from one man to another. Ownership of the woman is passed from the father or the brother to another man, the husband. The woman is merely a piece of merchandise, which is passed over to someone else—her guardian … Ultimately, I think women are greatly feared. When I compare the Saudi man with other Arab men, I can say that the Saudi is the only man who could not compete with the woman. He could not compete, so what did he do with her? … The woman has capabilities. When women study, they compete with the men for jobs. All jobs are open to men. 90% of them are open to men. You do not feel any competition … If you do not face competition from the Saudi woman … you have the entire scene for yourself. All positions and jobs are reserved for you. Therefore, you are a spoiled and self-indulged man.

The absurdity of the guardianship system, according to Huwaider, is shown by what would happen if she tried to remarry:

“I would have to get the permission of my son.”

Saudi Arabia is different from many Islamic societies in the extent of the covering that it considers Islamically correct hijab (everything except the hands and eyes) and the fact that covering is enforced by “religious police”.

Credit: www.human-awareness.com


If women are in the company of unmarried men they must cover the parts of the body that aren’t meant to be exposed. In much of Islam this is not an issue and a women’s face can be exposed. In Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states, all of the body apart from the hands and eyes must be covered, so women are expected to wear the hijab (head covering), a full black cloak called an abaya, and a face-veil called niqab.

I can’t begin to imagine how hot it must be wearing that.

Seems that what you wear is more important than your life.

In 2002 a fire at a girls’ school in Mecca in Saudi Arabia killed fifteen young girls, with more than 50 injured.  Nine of the dead girls were Saudis; the rest were from Chad, Egypt, Guinea, Niger and Nigeria.

The deaths, according to reports from people who put forward complaints, were preventable, however it appears that  Saudi Arabia’s “religious police”  stopped schoolgirls from leaving the burning building and hindered rescue workers because the girls were not wearing correct Islamic dress. The Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch said ,

“Women and girls may have died unnecessarily because of extreme interpretations of the Islamic dress code.”

“The scene was chilling to watch: Three young girls, clad in their black abayas, dropping one by one from the third-floor window shrouded in billowing black smoke”

According to at least two reports, members of the ‘Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’ or modesty police, which are also known as mutaween, would not allow the girls to escape or to be saved from the fire because they were “not properly covered”, and they did not want physical contact to take place between the girls and the civil defense forces for fear of sexual enticement, and  that the girls were locked in by the police, or forced back into the building. Human Rights Watch quoted a Civil Defense officer as saying,

“Whenever the girls got out through the main gate, these people forced them to return via another. Instead of extending a helping hand for the rescue work, they were using their hands to beat us.”

The CPVPV denied the charges of beating or locking the gates but the incident and the accounts of witnesses were reported in Saudi newspapers such as the Saudi Gazette and Al-Iqtisaddiyya. The result was a very rare public criticism of the group.

Sexual segregation which keeps wives, sisters and daughters from contact with stranger men, follows from the extreme concern for female purity and family honour. Social events are largely separated ; the mixing of non-kin men and women at parties  is extremely rare and limited to some of the more modern Western-educated families.

Women who are seen socialising with a man who is not a relative, can be harassed by the Islamic religious police and even charged with committing adultery or prostitution.

Saudi homes go to the extreme of having one entrance for men and another for women. For non-related males to enter the female sections of a Saudi home is a violation of family honour. Private space is associated with women while the public space, such as the living room, is reserved for men. Traditional house designs also use high walls, sectioned rooms, and curtains to protect the family and particularly women from the public.

McDonald’s Family and Singles sections.

Sex segregation is expected in public. In restaurants, banks and other public places in Saudi Arabia, women are required to enter and exit through special doors.  Unmarried women and men are only permitted limited social interaction.

Companies are expected to create all-female areas if they hire women. Public transport is segregated. Public places such as beaches and amusement parks are also segregated, sometimes by time, so that men and women attend at different hours.

Segregation is particularly strict in restaurants, since eating requires removal of the veil. Most restaurants in Saudi Arabia have “family” and “bachelor” sections, the latter for unmarried men or men without a family to accompany. Women or men with their families have to sit in the family section. In the families section, diners are usually seated in separate rooms or behind screens and curtains. Waiters are expected to give time for women to cover up before entering. Restaurants women who come without their husbands or escort. If they are allowed in, it will be to the family section.

Women cannot be waitresses except at a few women-only restaurants.

Pizza Hut, Saudi Arabia

Western companies often enforce Saudi religious regulations in restaurants, which has prompted some Western activists to criticise those companies. McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and other US firms, for instance, maintain segregated eating zones in their restaurants. The facilities in the families’ section are usually lower in quality.

Men and women may, sometimes, mix in restaurants of Western luxury hotels that cater primarily to non-citizens.

In recent years, the Labor Ministry has banned the employment of men or non-Saudi women in lingerie and other stores where women’s garments and perfumes are sold. In  2005 the Ministry announced a policy of staffing lingerie shops with women as many Saudi women also disliked discussing the subject of their undergarments with men.

The few shops which employed women were “quickly closed by the religious police” so women boycotted lingerie shops, and in June 2011 King Abdullah issued another decree giving lingerie shops one year to replace men workers with women.

This was followed by similar decrees for shops and shop departments specializing in other products for women, such as cosmetics, abayas and wedding dresses.

It seems quite unbelievable that in this day and age there are people with such a primitive way of thinking.





Check Also

Into The Fray: “Palestine” – Two countervailing hypotheses

Do the Palestinian-Arabs genuinely wish to establish a state for themselves?  Or do they really …


  1. I would like someone to tell me what Islam is. Because everywhere there is a terrorist attack i hear ‘this is not islam as islam is peace and love’. Now what islam is it in Saudi arabia ? Anyway wether it is the good of the bad one I am not ashamed to say i do not accept it and I think we should fight it. And yes I am I am judging their values (as someone told me yesterday that I wasnt allowed to judge other people’s values). And i know they dont hesitate to judge and condemn our values too.
    I am ashamed we are friends with such country and that we are so hypocritical. We have sold our souls

    • Agathe, I share your concern that Saudi Arabia, which won’t allow any other religion in their country and practices religious and racial apartheid, is one of our allies. Because of this ‘friendship’ there seems to be an unspoken agreement to keep quiet about Islam and sharia as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia.

  2. Agathe, I also have very mixed feelings about what Islam is and isn’t.

    It seems that even if a person appears to be good, how on earth can they be if they believe and follow the Koran, which is all about killing people, taking slaves and telling you exactly what you can do with those slaves.
    The whole history of Islam is about death and destruction yet I know some very nice gentle ones??

  3. Whatever happened to the Western feminists living in a free and equal society like Australia? They seem to spend most of their time complaining there are not enough woman in highly paid corporate jobs and how hard it is to crash through the “glass ceiling”. Why don’t they care about their sisters in places like Saudi Arabia, who suffer terribly from real sexism, which amounts to gender apartheid.