NEW YORK (TrustLaw) - One of the wealthiest countries on earth, Saudi Arabia continues to be among the most conservative and restrictive when it comes to women’s rights and freedoms.
In recent months, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has angered the kingdom’s powerful fundamentalist clergy by taking some small steps toward social reform.
These include: granting women the right to vote and stand for office in local elections starting in 2015; banishing the hard-line chief of the country’s morality police in favor of a more liberal cleric; and allowing women to replace men as sales clerks in lingerie shops, a shift expected to extend to cosmetics shops this July.
The reforms, however, are dwarfed by the lengthy list of restrictions imposed on the some 9 million Saudi women and girls. Here are some examples:
*Women and girls generally are forbidden to leave home, travel outside the country, work, study, marry, file a court case or seek medical care without being accompanied by or receiving the written consent of a male guardian, such as a husband, father, brother or son.
*Women are forbidden from opening bank accounts for their children, enrolling them in school or traveling with them without written permission from their father.
*A strict separation of men and women in all public places, which reduces women’s employment opportunities and access to some government agencies.
*Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving cars.
*Saudi public universities exclude women and girls from some academic disciplines, such as political science, engineering and architecture, and some admit no women at all.
*Saudi girls are banned from physical education classes in state schools and from public sports facilities.
*Saudi Arabia has no provision for women’s participation in national or international sports competition and may be the only country to send an all-male team to the London 2012 Olympics.