Things are changing in Saudi Arabia. Last year they sent female athletes to the Olympics for the first time, Prince AlWaleed bin Talal is pushing to lift the ban on female drivers in order to decrease the reliance on foreign drivers, and the Kingdom is reportedly letting women ride bicycles now, although only for ‘entertainment’, as opposed to transportation… and still only when covered head to toe, only in restricted areas and only when accompanied by a man…but baby steps, right?
And now, the first ever anti-domestic violence advert has been released. A close up shot of a burkha-clad woman’s eyes, one of which is sporting a heavy bloodied bruise and the tagline “Some things can’t be covered.”
The campaign encourages women to report their attackers in instances of domestic violence, and is the first of the King Khalid Foundation’s No More Abuse campaign. Saudi Arabia has a truly appalling record in terms of gender inequality – gender apartheid is enforced, women are heavily treated as second class citizens, and that the fact that they can now bikes for funsies is being seen as any kind of feminist victory surely shows how dismal the state of affairs is over there.
Bill Gates recalls once speaking at a conference in Saudi Arabia, to address an entirely segregated audience. About 80% of the audience were men, seated on the left. The 20% of women, all covered from head to toe in burkhas were on the right, separated by a partition. When the question was raised of how Saudi Arabia could come to be in the top 10 of countries leading the way in technology, Gates replied,‘Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10,’ to a reported eruption of cheers from the women’s side.
I find it difficult to be overwhelmed with enthusiasm by any of these so-called victories in a country where the women are literal possessions of the men – ruled by a guardian system law which is in essence a slavery law. Saudi Women’s Rights Activist, Wajeha Al-Huweidar notes that “That law made men masters and women their servants. Men control all aspects of women’s lives from the day they’re born until the day they die.”
However, any movement against domestic violence has to be applauded, especially in a country where it is so widespread – as the foundation who made the image stated on their website
“The phenomenon of battered women in Saudi Arabia is much greater than is apparent on the surface. It is a phenomenon found in the dark. We want to achieve justice for all women and children exposed to abuse in all parts of the Kingdom.”
It’s a start.