Gender Apartheid in Saudi Arabia 101

Saudi women
Saudi women (Illustrative photo: Reuters)

Although Saudi Arabia’s population is nearly 50 percent female, the male patriarchy is ever present and has essentially created what Swiss-Yemini academic Dr. Elham Manea refers to as gender apartheid.

Saudi Arabia has been called “the world’s most misogynistic regime.” Among other indignities to women, it is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.


Patriarchal Laws

In Saudi Arabia, women must have a male guardian with them at all times in public. A woman’s “guardian” is typically her father or husband, but it could even be even her underage son. Her guardian must approve every major life decision for the woman, such as school, travel, work and even doctor visits.

Institutions and areas where Saudi women are allowed are carefully guarded. Businesses must create separate areas for woman to prevent illegal gender mixing. (Notable, in terms of employment, this practice discourages businesses from hiring women in the first place, as the logistics become too complicated.)

Saudi women are required to completely cover their entire bodies in public with a black abaya (cloak), hijab (head covering) and niqab (face veil). Only their eyes can be left uncovered.

Woman may face death threats online or be sentenced to lashes or jail for noncompliance.

Some men refuse to say a woman’s name in public, as women are deemed “private” beings and thus not publicly recognized or spoken to in public settings.


Breaking Through  

Women have submitted petitions with thousands of signatures in an attempt to overturn such strict and inhumane laws. Although most of the laws still remain, there has been some progress such as when women were granted the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections.



Alicia Cherem
Alicia Cherem is a contributor to Clarion Project.

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