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Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia history


Saudi Arabia being based on Islamic cultural values, the role of women has in a way been suppressed. Some of the cultural values may be considered inhumane even over time as the years progress. In the past, women were previously forbidden from voting or being elected to political office but King Abdullah, declared that women will be able to vote and run in the 2015 local elections.

Manal al-Sharif is a woman activist who helped start a women’s right to drive campaign in 2011. Saudi Arabia happens to be the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving.

Gender roles in Saudi society come from Sharia (Islamic law) and tribal culture. Sharia is based on the Qur’an and Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad). In Saudi culture, the Sharia is interpreted according to a strict Sunni form known as the way of the Salaf (righteous predecessors).

The World Economic Forum 2009 Global Gender Gap Report noted that Saudi Arabia is one of the few Middle Eastern countries to improve from 2008, with small gains in economic opportunity.

Saudi women constitute 18.6% of the country’s native workforce as of 2011.

The law is mostly unwritten leaving judges with significant power which they usually exercise in favor of tribal customs. The variation of interpretation leads to controversy. Some Saudi activists see traditional Saudi culture rather than Islam as the main impediment to women’s rights.

A female journalist, Sabria Jawhar believes that if all women were given the rights the Qur’an guarantees them and not be supplanted by tribal customs, then the issue of whether Saudi women have equal rights would be reduced.


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