Following the death of Saudi Arabia’s monarch, King Abdullah, last week, some commentators have made mention of the King’s support for women’s rights. The Guardian reported on how International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde even said, “In a very discreet way, he was a strong advocate of women.”
This might strike some people as a surprise. Saudi Arabia is not known for being a place where women can grow and thrive. The female population there is one of the lowest (42.5%) in the world, according to The World Bank.
Via polls, studies, and just by looking at the country’s laws and cultural norms, we have found five particular aspects of life for a woman in Saudi Arabia which would make us question Lagarde’s tribute to the late king.
1. Workforce participation for women
Only 18.2% of the country’s female population participate in the workforce, the United Nations reports. Compare that with 75.5% of the men who are employed.Image credit: Omar Salem, Getty
There are no laws in the country mandating equal pay for women and men who hold the same jobs.
2. Violence towards women
There is no legislation that addresses domestic violence or sexual harassment, and therefore no criminal sanctions for these crimes.Image credit: Fayez Nureldine, Getty
Chalabi notes that studies show 53% of men find domestic violence acceptable, and 32% of men admit to having actually harmed their spouse. Forty-six percent of women in a study reported being the victim of intimate partner physical violence.
3. Legal inequality
The country’s constitution does not decree equality between men and women before the law.Image credit: Fayez Nureldine, Getty
Among the things that women are unable to do the same way that men can do is choose where to live, or apply for a passport or a national ID card. Women cannot travel outside the outside the country, unlike men who are free to do so.
4. Cultural inequality
It’s a cultural norm that women are not allowed to leave the home without a male relative or chaperone, called a “mahram,” present.Image credit: Marwan Naamani, Getty
It’s also an accepted norm that women are not supposed to drive. A group of women organized the “Women2Drive” movement in 2011 to encourage women to get behind the wheel. That same year, a woman was given the sentence of 10 lashings for driving.
5. Lack of political participation
Vatican City is the only other country in the world with this restriction.
King Abdullah has been succeeded by his 79-year-old half brother Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is said to be the 25th son of their father, Abdul-Aziz. Like his brother, Salman is not expected to change the country’s current policies on women’s rights.