Saudi Arabia applies a strict version of Islamic Sharia law, that imposes many restrictions on women, based on laws and traditions. Women cannot vote or be elected to high political positions. King Abdullah has, however, declared that women will be able to vote and un the 2015 local elections and be appointed to the Consulate Assembly.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. In 2009, The World Economy Gender Rap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries for gender parity. So, it came as a big surprise when in 2013, Saudi Arabia adopted a law criminalizing domestic violence, usually targeted at women and children. Critics and activists state that such a law will be long in its implementation. There are fines and jail sentences from one-month up to a year.
The country employs many Asian women in the capacity as domestics and this law will help them. How serious are the authorities well in August, 2013, Saudi authorities freed a 50 year-old woman who had been held captive in a room for three-years by her relatives over a family dispute.
Men and women are segregated at various times: separate entrances at home for men and women. For a non-related male to enter the female section of a Saudi home is a violation of family honour. The word ‘harim’ means ‘forbidden’ or sacred.
Segregation is strictly enforced in public. Women are expected to veil outside their home. Western companies must provide all female working areas. Public transportation is segregated. Sometimes, beaches have separate hours for men and women.
Restaurants have family and ‘batchelor’ sections. Families are seated in separate rooms or behind screens and curtains. Waiters are expected to give time to women to cover up before entering and taking food orders. Women on their own will be barred from most restaurants.
We will wait and see if women get the vote in 2015 and if this law and other laws will bring Saudi Arabia into the 21st century regarding its treatment of women.