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Eight things women still can't do in Saudi Arabia

King Salman has promised many reforms for female citizens but important decisions a woman in Saudi Arabia still cannot make for herself include the ability to marry, travel or seek medical treatment 

Wednesday 27 September 2017 11:03 BST
Saudi Arabia women arrive to a rally to celebrate the 87th annual National Day of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 23 September 2017
Saudi Arabia women arrive to a rally to celebrate the 87th annual National Day of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 23 September 2017 (REUTERS)

The news that King Salman of Saudi Arabia has issued a royal decree finally giving women in the conservative Kingdom the right to drive was met with celebration both inside the country and across the globe.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.

The issue has come to represent all of the human rights abuses Saudi women suffer under the Kingdom’s male guardianship system, which gives a woman’s husband, son or father control over almost all aspects of her life.

“Women’s issues have always been used by the Saudi regime at the right moment in order to disperse bad publicity,” Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi Arabian professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday.

“We talk about driving as if it is the most important thing - it is important for the women’s movement... but there are certain legal restrictions that are still in place [that are also a pressing issue],” she added. “It’s a long struggle and a long road to serious equality.”

King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman have implemented “Vision 2030”, a long-term blueprint of economic and social reforms designed to modernise Saudi Arabia and wean itself off reliance on oil revenue.

While there has been promise of several reforms for female citizens so far just a handful of the important decisions a woman in Saudi Arabia still cannot make for herself include:


Permission to marry must be granted by your wali, or guardian. Women who seek to marry foreigners must obtain approval to do by the ministry of interior, and marriage to non-Muslims is so difficult as to be impossible.

Open a bank account

While there are now a few jobs women in the Kingdom are allowed to do without male permission, such as working as shop assistants or at fairgrounds, they are not allowed to have their own bank account to control their finances without permission.

LSE Saudi Arabia academic: Lifting ban on women driving is being used to deflect bad news

Get a fair trial

The testimony of a woman is only worth half a man’s in Saudi Arabia’s legal system. Women also only receive half the inheritance their brothers are entitled to.


Passports and identification cards must be obtained with the permission of a male guardian. Women are usually also not allowed to leave the home alone.

Dress how they want

“Dressing for beauty” is illegal, and modest clothing and make up encouraged.

Full length abayas - a long coat worn over other clothes - must be worn by all women in public, although in recent years rules over the colour, decoration and how headscarves are worn have been relaxed.

Interact with men

Conversations and time spent with men who are not family members is limited. In public, restaurants, universities and other spaces have both a ‘family’ section and a section reserved for men.

Seek important medical treatment

Even life-saving operations and procedures require the written signature of a male relative.

Have custody of children

In cases of divorce, women are only allowed custody of their children until they reach the age of seven (boys) and nine (girls).

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