Saudi Arabia Continues Crackdown on Women

July 7, 2011

A Saudi woman gets out of a car after being given a ride by her driver in Riyadh © Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia is making headlines again—and once again, these headlines show Saudi Arabia’s continued persecution of women.  Recently, a group of brave Saudi Arabian women made headlines for defying Saudi Arabia’s driving ban for women.

The driving ban for women makes it difficult, if not impossible, for women to work and travel, and makes them increasingly dependant on their mahram “male guardian.”  In Saudi Arabia, women are clearly second-class citizens.

For defying the driving ban, at least 5 Saudi women were arrested.

Yet, despite these barriers and persecutions, Saudi Arabian women continue to speak out for their and others’ rights.

Saudi Arabian women continue to risk their own freedomJuly 3, women protested in Riyadh to demand fair trials for their relatives, and 15 women and 5 children were arrested.  Two of those women, Rima bint Abdul Rahman al-Jareesh and and Sharifa al-Saqa’abi, were held in detention through the week.  One of them, Rima bint Abdul Rahman al-Jareesh, is believed to have refused to sign a pledge not to protest again or to have her “male guardian” act as her guarantor to secure her release. Though these women were recently released, their arrest, and the long-term persecution of women in Saudi Arabia, are notable parts of legacy of gender-based discrimination in Saudi Arabia.

These women fight on two fronts: like many of their male counterparts, they continue to fight for increased reform and rights in Saudi Arabia, and yet they also must fight against extreme discrimination and persecution against women in Saudi Arabia.  Women face severe discrimination in both law and practice.  They cannot vote, they must have permission from their “male guardian” to travel, work, or marry, they cannot pass their nationality onto their children (only men can), and they face high rates of domestic violence.

While we celebrate the release of Rima bint Abdul Rahman al-Jareesh and and Sharifa al-Saqa’abi, Saudi Arabia must commit to upholding the rights of all Saudis to peacefully protest.  What’s more, Saudi Arabia must address continued discrimination against women, including lifting the driving ban.