Women’s freedom of movement and access to public space
is severely restricted in Saudi Arabia. Legally, women need permission to leave their homes, and are forbidden from leaving their local neighbourhood without the company of their mahram
Women are also not allowed to drive cars, although protests against this law are becoming increasingly vocal.
Certain public services may be accessed only if accompanied by a mahram
, and women need to be accompanied by a male relative when travelling inside or outside the country.
In order to obtain a passport, women need to provide the name and national ID number of their guardian, and the guardian is in turn required to sign the form. While national ID cards are optional for women, they are compulsory for men over the age of 15.
Saudi Arabia also applies rules of strict gender segregation: women are forbidden to be in physical contact with unrelated males, and unrelated men and women are separated in all public places. Mosques, most ministries and some public streets are reserved for men.
Women have only limited access to parks, museums and libraries, which they can only visit at certain times.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) police are responsible for maintaining gender segregation in public places, and reportedly are often arbitrary and vindictive in their interpretation of laws relating to contact between men and women, and other aspects of ‘morality’, often harassing and physically abusing women who they deem to be breaking the law.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly are all restricted in Saudi Arabia. Political activists are frequently detained and police aggressively disperse protests.
Organised assemblies of any type require a government permit and it is a crime to participate in political protests or unauthorised public assemblies.
Law does not provide for freedom of association and the government prohibits the establishment of political parties or groups considered in opposition or challenging to the regime.
The government tightly controls domestic media content and journalists are banned from publishing articles considered offensive to the religious establishment or the ruling authorities; violations can result in fines, prison sentences, and forced closure.
While women’s rights activists and organisations are active in Saudi Arabia, especially in attempts to reduce domestic violence, increase political participation, and protest the ban on female driving, they have faced threats and intimidation.
There is no national-level elected legislature in Saudi Arabia. Women did not have the right to vote in Saudi Arabia’s municipal council elections, first held in 2005 and again in 2011.
A Royal Decree was issued in late 2011 that allows Saudi women to vote and run for office in the next municipal elections, scheduled for 2015.
As for quotas
, there are some reserved seats at national level: a January 2011 Royal Order amended the composition of the previously all-male 150-member Consultative Council by reserving 20% of its seats for women members.
While these changes provide greater political rights to women, voter participation in municipal elections have to date been limited, and municipal councils have very little authority.
Women may also now serve on the Shura council, the 150-member formal advisory body that drafts laws, debates major issues and provides advice to the king. A royal decree in 2013 granted women thirty appointed seats on the council and a second decree stipulates that women should henceforth make up 20% of the council.
There are currently, however, no female ministers in the cabinet and women remain segregated within the council, entering through a separate door and sitting in their own seating area.
Overall, women’s representation in decision-making remains very low, and they are entirely excluded from all leadership positions within the country’s religious institutions.
There is no legislation in place to protect women against discrimination in employment
. Pregnant women are, however, entitled to 10 weeks’ paid maternity leave
(financed by the employer), and organisations that employ more than 50 women are required to provide childcare facilities.
Women need permission from their maharm
in order to be able to work.
The new Labour Code (introduced in 2005) implies that gender segregation in the work place is no longer a legal requirement, but the law is unclear and segregation is often still practiced, limiting women’s full participation in the work place.
Some professions are closed to women: a loosely defined group of activities that are deemed unsuitable to women’s ‘nature’ and potentially detrimental to their health.
However, younger men are increasingly supportive of their wives having careers and employment outside the home, not least as their income helps cover increased living costs in Saudi Arabia.
Women have been able to study law since 2007, and since 2013 can receive legal licenses allowing them to practice law in courtrooms and operate law firms. In addition, the government has taken steps to encourage women’s employment opportunities, for instance by obliging all government agencies to have women’s sections, and new opportunities for women are opening up in the private sphere (such as women-only manufacturing and shopping centres).
But women’s participation in the labour market remains low, at 18%.
Saudi women cannot confer citizenship
to children born to a non-Saudi Arabian father.
Women are, however, now able to check into hotels or rent apartments on their own, and a women-only hotel opened in Riyadh in 2008.
 Amnesty International (2010) p.277; Duomato (2010) p.431  Human Rights Watch (2012); CNN (2013); Freedom House (2013)  World Bank (2013); Freedom House (2013)  Idem  Idem  Idem  Human Rights Council (2009) p.14; Freedom House (2013)  Freedom House (2013)  US Department of State (2012)  Idem  Freedom House (2013)  Freedom House (2013); Duomato (2010) p.446  Doumato (2010) pp.426, 444  Human Rights Watch (2012)  The Quota Project (2014)  Middle East Voices (2012)  New York Times (2013)  Idem  Doumato (2010) pp.431  ILO (2010); World Bank (2013)  Doumato (2010) p.431  Human Rights Council (2009) p.7; Duomato (2010) p.439  Financial Times (2014)  Doumato (2010) pp.426, 444  World Bank (n.d) ‘Data: Labor participation rate, female  World Bank (2013)  Doumato (2010) p.432