Saudi Women Can Now Drive—Here Are 12 Things They Still Can't Do in the Gulf Kingdom

Saudi Arabia
A Saudi woman gets into a taxi at a mall in Riyadh on October 26, 2014. Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty

Saudi women woke up on Wednesday morning knowing they will soon be able to drive legally for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom's history after years of campaigning by activists inside and outside of the country.

King Salman's royal decree said women would be allowed to drive cars "in accordance with Islamic law," and will come into place in June 2018.

His decision comes after years of criticism pointed toward Saudi Arabia as the only country in the world not to allow women to drive, and just a week after a Saudi cleric was suspended for saying women should not be allowed to drive because they have "a quarter" the brain size of men.

The discrimination against women and their ability to drive has caused significant damage to the kingdom's reputation around the world, and lifting the controversial ban will go some way to offsetting some of the criticism.

But, despite the new measure, gender equality remains a distant prospect in the country. It remains 141st out of 144 countries in the world for gender parity, according to the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, published by the World Economic Forum. The only countries behind Saudi Arabia are Syria, Pakistan and Yemen.

Here are twelve things that women still can't do, but men can, in the country.

Women live under a draconian system of guardianship in Saudi Arabia, one where they require the permission of a male guardian, usually a father, or husband, to carry out daily activities.

  1. Women cannot wear clothes or cosmetics that reveal or enhance their facial features or other parts of the body. They must wear an abaya, or long black robe, and a headscarf to cover most of their body when outside of their house.
  2. They must limit the time spent with men who they are not related to in public, at places such as banks and universities.
  3. They cannot swim at pools where men also swim, but must use private pools or pools at female-only institutions.
  4. Women are not allowed to try on clothes while out shopping, even if they are behind a dressing room door or robe.
  5. They must get the permission of a man to open a bank account.
  6. To eat in public, women must have their food underneath their robe.
  7. To leave their house and travel in public, women must also obtain the permission of a male guardian.
  8. As a doctor, they cannot treat a male patient.
  9. They cannot apply for a passport without the permission of a man.
  10. Women cannot have custody of a child once the child has reached a certain age: nine years of age for girls, and seven for boys.
  11. They do not receive equal inheritance with their brothers, but half of what their male siblings are given.
  12. Women are not allowed to eat at restaurants that do not have a segregated area for families.

While gender parity is some way off in the country, here are some of the activities that women are legally able to partake in:

  • Drive (from June 2018)
  • Get a college degree.
  • Compete in the Olympic Games.
  • Train to become air traffic controllers.
  • Work as saleswomen in cosmetic and lingerie shops.
  • Become a doctor.

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