When a Saudi woman daring not to wear a hijab leads to calls for her beheading, maybe it's time the UK paid attention

Our Government has put business, arms and trades deals before human rights. It isn't ethical and it isn't fair

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The Independent Online

Today it was reported that a Saudi women who posted a picture of herself on social media in public without wearing a hijab faced outrage on social media, including calls for her execution. One man memorably declared: “Kill her and throw her corpse to the dogs.”

To the surprise of the some, Saudi Arabia – which has been bombing Yemen for 18 months, including one incident where the country’s fighters bombed a funeral, and which has arguably the worst record on women’s rights in the world – was recently re-elected to the Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ premier human rights body. There was, predictably, an outcry.

Governing women’s clothing, whether on the beaches of Cannes or the streets of Riyadh, is a violation we should all stand against. And clearly people in the Islamic world believe this as ardently as atheists in the West. This year, men in Iran wore headscarves in solidarity with their wives who are forced cover their hair in public places. The campaign against the enforced hijab in Iran has seen women defying morality police in public and even shaving their hair. If men in Saudi Arabia campaigned in similar numbers and joined the fight, perhaps we’d see a change in the Middle East’s political landscape.

Steps have been made, however small, of late to extend women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. In August this year, the kingdom’s passport office suspended a programme that notified a woman’s “male guardian” (usually her husband) if she wished to travel outside the kingdom. Furthermore, a Saudi prince and business magnate, Alwaleed bin Talal, added his voice to the debate over women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, urging it to abandon its driving ban for women. In an unprecedented move, he stated that preventing women from driving is an "issue of rights similar to the one that forbade them from receiving an education.”

In addition, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a prominent member of the Saudi Committee of Senior Scholars, said this year that there is no legitimate reason to ban women from driving under Islamic law. Across the Arab world, and in Saudi Arabia, female Islamic scholars and activists have been pushing for interpretations of Sharia law that consider women and men as equals before God.

Nevertheless, it’s now time for the International community to put pressure on the Saudi regime. It is scandalous that we are complicit in human rights violations perpetrated by a kingdom that continues to behead people for breaking their laws. Indeed, it was reported in January that Saudi’s beheadings had reached their highest level in two decades.

Our deafening silence in the face of multiple human rights violence in Saudi has gone on for too long. Our Government has put business, arms and trades deals before human rights, casually expecting the country to catch up with it in terms of equality. But when a woman appearing without a hijab on social media provokes calls for her to be killed and eaten by dogs, perhaps it’s time we took our fingers out of our ears and started listening.