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Seven things Saudi women still can't do, despite driving ban lift

Lifting the ban may be a sign of improvement but the kingdom still has a long way to go
Saudi Iman al-Nafjan holds a note which she says was placed on a family car as a warning after she drove in Riyadh in 2011 (AFP)

In a decree issued on Tuesday, Saudi King Salman ruled that women will be allowed to drive cars next year, a move which will end the kingdom’s status as the only country in the world where it is forbidden. 

Social media users reacted to the news, pointing out the kingdom's "regressive" guardianship rules, which women in Saudi are still battling.

Saudi’s law against women drivers is one of many controversial laws presenting a web of restrictions to women.

Saudi women are required to get permission from a male family member, sometimes even a younger brother, for some of the most important decisions of her life. 

And whilst they might be allowed to drive in eight months' time, here is a list of things Saudi women still can't do: 

1. Eat freely in public 

As part of the kingdom's dress code, women are required to wear a face veil. This, whilst selectively enforced, means that wherever it is, women must then eat under their face veil.

2. Dress ‘for beauty’ 

They must cover their hair and bodies. The kingdom's dress code requires women to wear an "abaya," a dress-like full length cloak.  

3. Freely socialise with non-relative males

Women are not free to socialise with men outside of their immediate families, and can even be imprisoned for committing such an offence. 

4. Marry whomever they like

There are rulings against Saudi marrying non-Muslim, Shia, or atheist men.

5. Travel

Travelling without a male guardian's permission is prohibited.

6. Open a bank account 

In Saudi Arabia, women still need their husband's permission before they are allowed to open a bank account. 

7. Get a job

Although the government no longer requires a woman to have a guardian’s permission in order to work, many employers still demand the permission before hiring.

The struggle for greater women’s rights in the kingdom has been a difficult one, with activists facing arrest for defying the driving ban. 

Saudi women have been campaigning for the right to drive since the 1990s, with many women ending up in prison. Among many other women, Manal al-Sharif, an Aramco employee at the time and an activist, dared to drive in eastern Saudi Arabia with Wajiha al-Howeider, a veteran feminist, who recorded the incident for circulation on social media.

In recent months, a model was arrested for wearing a short skirt. 

Scholars trying to use Islam as justification

Islamic scholars in the kingdom routinely used religious reasoning to justify the ban, arguing for years that the ban was in accordance with sharia law.

As debate unfolded on social media, many users shared old tweets from scholars, who had previously defended the ban, calling their views "shameful," and asking for them to be removed. 

Some activists are now scouring scholars' Twitter accounts, finding evidence of when they previously argued it was Islamically unlawful for women to drive. But they're in a race against time with the scholars themselves, some of whom are deleting tweets in which they spoke out against women drivers.   

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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