Slower than a Snail, but Moving Forward All the Same: Saudi Women’s Rights

It’s not easy being a woman, period, in the Middle East, but in Saudi Arabia being a woman takes on a whole new meaning. Their infamous lack of rights-from not being able to drive to not being able to vote (recently ‘amended’) to not even being able to go out or travel by one’s self (and this applies to foreign, Western women tourists too)-have long been condemned by human rights groups everywhere.

Yet there is progress occurring in Saudi Arabia even as women near and far across the Middle East continue to suffer at the hands of dominating, sexist men. Just take a look at these recent measures:

A Mall Without Men

Rarely do women have any rights over men, but such was the case when it came to visiting a mall in Saudi Arabia: apparently, single men were barred from visiting the malls except for during weekday lunchtime hours so that the malls could be “family-friendly” places and women wouldn’t be harassed. Recently it was decided that the law would be changed. While this might not seem as a move towards women’s rights, since women once again might be exposed to, ahem, lustful men who stalk them in public spaces, it nevertheless is a very big step in the direction of true women’s rights: acknowledging that men and women are equal and that both should be allowed to roam the same public place, in trusting that both can behave themselves! What was that phrase from the 1950s-“Separate is NOT equal?”

A Woman at the Olympic Games

Like anything else that the West might deem “fun,” athletics are highly discouraged for women in Saudi Arabia. Women athletes do, nevertheless, exist, and as in Iran they are usually prevented from participating in sporting events abroad. Yet one Dalma Malhas may become the first Saudi woman in recent history to participate in a sporting event of such magnitude as the upcoming Olympics in London. While the decision to allow her to participate has not yet been officially declared, this is a great milestone for women athletes that the possibility is even being considered. However, the reason Dalma Malhas is even being considered is probably because she is an equestrian, which is pretty “tame” in terms of dress (watching the Hampton Classic equestrians in full riding dress in 80-degree heat always makes me sweat) as well as contact: it’s not like soccor or volleyball, where women wear skimpier uniforms and are pushing, shoving, sweating and moving in, ahem, unladylike ways. Even if she will be forced to wear a hijab or other Islamic-style dress to the Olympics, Dalma will still pave the way for aspiring Saudi atheletes.

Lingerie Shops Run by Women, for Women

Sourced from

Women selling lingerie to women sounds like a no-brainer: what salesman could possibly know better than a woman when it comes to how a bra fits, and what undies are comfortable yet attractive? Yet in Saudi Arabia, where women are basically forbidden to work, lingerie shops were staffed with men. Indeed, this was another one of those awkward situations that the Saudi government got itself into: women and men are so deterred from interacting, and yet if a young girl needs help buying her first bra, she’s going to have an older man hand it over to her? After lobbying  and complaining, the Saudi government finally decided to let women work in lingerie shops, thus not only creating new jobs for women but also insuring that shopping for underthings is a more relaxing experience!

Joining the Anti-Bod Squad

Out of all of these recent achievements for Saudi women, perhaps the most thrilling (and telling) of all is that women are being considered to join the Religious Police, which I have nicknamed the ‘Anti-Bod Squad’ since making sure women are dutifully covered is just one of their many arduous tasks. If Saudi women are being deemed worthy enough to judge others and take authority over even a man, than that means that they are being seen as equals. However much I applaud the shiekhs for even considering this, I do feel that allowing women to join the religious police will be a bust. What sexist man is really going to take a woman “arresting” him without putting up a fight? A woman telling a man what to do? Sacre bleu!



1. Saudi Women Break a Barrier: The Right to Sell Lingerie, by Thomas J. Lippman on Jan. 21, 2012:

2. Al Ahlam

3. Bikaya Masr


12 thoughts on “Slower than a Snail, but Moving Forward All the Same: Saudi Women’s Rights

  1. I love your blog and all of your posts are SO interesting. When I get time, I’m going to read every one of them. You are doing a great service for women worldwide. ONWARD!

  2. Not sure if my last post made it! If so, and I’m posting twice, please feel free to delete one of them.

    AS I said in earlier post: I LOVE your blog — it is one of my favorites. And, you are doing a great service for women of the world. When I get time, I’m going to sit back, relax and read every one of your blogs… ONWARD!

    1. Thank you very much! It’s an honor to have a writer as accomplished as yourself say such words about my blog. Women’s rights are something I am very passionate about, especially concerning women in the Middle East, and I believe women should never stop fighting or critiquing until they are no longer discriminated against! -Meredith O.

      1. You are SO right! We should all link arms in our minds and never ever never ever never ever give up until every woman can live without fear or harm at the hands of a man, or at the hands of brutal governments. I’m going to blog about you and this within the next few days. Your blog has so impressed me. Thanks, Meredith!

  3. Rules, rules, rules – how crazy things can get. The one about lingerie sales shows just how ridiculous these arbitary rules are. Thank goodness for progress, no matter how small.
    ps thanks for visiting my blog!

    1. When I lived in Saudi Arabia (12 years) the thing I noticed most was how much energy it took for the men of that country to totally control and guard their women, plus guard the information that citizens are allowed to see. The government had hired thousands of men to sit in offices and spend hour after hour blacking out images of women — the entire topic of sex drives them totally mad! I realized then how exhausting it is to try and control what people think! During this process, they come up with the most ridiculous rules. You have my mind back on this and I’m going to soon blog about all the nonsense that I saw and lived through. Thanks again for such an interesting blog…. I’m loving it!

      1. Again, thank you, Ms. Sasson! It is amazing how much time governments in the Middle East waste while focusing on silly cultural things like what a woman wears, when they could be devoting that time to making their countries better places to live and educating the public. I remember picking up a copy of Australian Vogue in the Abu Dhabi airport (ok, not Saudi Arabia, but still) and there were several black splotches on some of the pages. It took me more than a beat to realize that they were nude photos that had been blocked out!

        I cannot believe you lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years. What a fortunate opportunity, but at the same time, quel hardship! As much as I love/am inspired by the Middle East, I don’t think I could last more than a week or two in that country!

      2. How right you are! Hey, it’s fun to hear your stories… Stangely enough, every moment of my 12 years in Saudi Arabia was a treasure, despite my very strong personality… I don’t know why, but I was treated like a princess everywhere I went and I learned so much about that culture — some good, some bad, but all valuable for me… I would go back in a heartbeat, believe it or not. Despite this, I am a vocal critic of how their women are treated, but I do realize that social change comes very slowly…

  4. I have to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this
    site. I am hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts from you in the
    future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own, personal website now

    1. Thank you so much! It really makes me so happy when I hear that people are reading-and enjoying!-my blog. I would post more often if I was simply writing a quick blurb, but I guess I tend to treat this blog like a mini-research paper lol, with my own opinions and “I’s” thrown in. 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s