Journalist and Women’s Rights Activist; Online Editor for Al Arabiya; Saudi Arabia
In addition to the bleak political reality, there is a tacit ban on showing women in the
media, though it is not illegal to do so. Women also have no protection should they be
physically attacked for appearing in the media. Broadly speaking, Saudi society can
accept women’s success in various ﬁelds, but cannot accept seeing or coming into direct contact with them. Nonetheless, Saudis are complicit in hardliners’ heaping abuse
upon “rebellious” women who make their success known publicly through the media.
This seclusion of women through censorship is by no means restricted to the working
classes, and even women in the royal family are subject to the same restraints. Saudi
princesses had never appeared in the pages of the local newspapers until May 2005,
when Princess Loulwa al-Faisal, daughter of the late King Faisal, served as a delegate
in a Saudi trade mission to the United States.
Although Saudi women are allowed to have their own identity cards, this right is
not absolute, since their legal guardians have the authority to prevent women from obtaining these cards. Moreover, the law has not made identity cards obligatory for women. Some Saudis are known to even cover female relatives’ pictures with black tape,
lest the images prove too arousing. Travel restrictions are also imposed on women,
who need the permission of a guardian to leave the country. In some cases, the guardian is a younger brother, no older than 20, forbidding a sister with a PhD to travel.
Thus, women are almost completely sequestered from public space in the kingdom,
not only in images, but in person. The dire consequence of this status quo is that even
more fundamental women’s rights, those relating to their security, health and general
well-being, are kept from the fore, leaving no chance for much-needed change.