• Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty

    Face to Face

    Why I Removed the Veil

    One of Saudi Arabia’s preeminent activists, who led the right-to-drive movement, describes her decision to take off the niqab.

    No piece of cloth throughout history has sparked more controversy as the veil. Many Muslim women are forced to wear it daily. The hijab has a spectrum, of course, from its most radical embodiments, the niqab, which covers the entire face, to loose fitting headscarves.

    Saudi Arabia comes come second only to Iran in using the power of the stick (the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice or the religious police) to impose a particular form and color of hejab on all our women. And when I say all our women, I mean all: Saudi and non-Saudi, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

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  • "Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him," Tahani (in pink) recalls of the early days of her marriage to Majed, when she was 6 and he was 25. The young wife posed for this portrait with former classmate Ghada, also a child bride, outside their mountain home in Hajjah. Nearly half of all women in Yemen were married as children. Every year, throughout the world, millions of young girls are forced into marriage. Child marriage is outlawed in many countries and international agreements forbid the practice yet this tradition still spans continents, language, religion and caste. (Stephanie Sinclair)

    Childhood Interrupted

    Liberating Yemen’s Child Brides

    The country is one of the last in the Middle East to establish a minimum age for marriage, but pressure from inside the government could soon protect young girls from forced unions.

    The Human Rights Ministry of Yemen has confirmed that one of its officials has helped to prevent the wedding of a 12-year-old girl, which was due to take place earlier this month. Hiba was to be married in Taiz, Southern Yemen, but the official notified local police who ensured an immediate divorce. There have been reports too of similar interventions taking place in other parts of the country.

    With no minimum age of marriage in Yemen, while Hiba and others are out of danger for the moment, without any legal sanctions to support them, these girls remain at serious risk.

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  • Low Rider

    Saudi Women Defy Driving Ban

    Risking arrest and harassment on Saturday, a handful of activists subverted the Kingdom's ban on female drivers.

    The Indy 500 this was not, but for the few dozen Saudi women who took to the wheel on October 26—in defiance of the Kingdom's ban on female drivers—their act of subversion was just as exhilarating. Activists inside the country had hoped for a higher turnout for the appointed day of protest, but last-minute problems may have dissuaded would-be drivers, including warnings from prominent clerics and the hacking of a website belonging to the October 26th Women's Driving Campaign. Still, supporters told the AP that at least 60 women took part in the protest, uploading a handful of videos to document their four-wheeled civil disobedience. As one young mother gushed to The New York Times after a successful supermarket run, "I'm so proud of myself right now." Check out a YouTube video, supposedly showing a woman driving on the day of protest, below.

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  • Susan Baaghil/Reuters

    Middle East

    Saudi Cleric: Protect Ovaries, Don’t Let Women Drive

    In the latest attack on Saudi women's campaign to drive, a prominent holy man says sitting in a car hurts the reproductive system. Ladies, leave these troglodytes in the dust, says David Keyes.

    Last Friday, Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, stated that if women were allowed to drive, it would harm their ovaries. Driving “pushes the pelvis upwards” and women who hope to get behind a wheel should “put reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions.”

    Silly girls and their silly hearts.

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  • FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty

    DRIVEN TO CHANGE

    Getting Saudi Women Behind the Wheel

    Campaign urges women to drive October 26.

    One campaign wants to empower Saudi women by getting them to drive October 26. It garnered more than 8,700 signatures since September 21. The country’s head of morality says that Islamic law does not actually ban driving for women. “While no laws explicitly ban Saudi women from driving, citizens must use locally issued licenses. These are not issued to women, making it in effect illegal for them to drive,” according to Reuters. Activists have attempted to jump-start driving campaigns in the past few years, but they have been largely unsuccessful so far.

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  • FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty

    COME TOGETHER

    Networking in Saudi Arabia

    Ambassador’s wife fosters groups of women.

    In Saudi Arabia, male diplomats are barred from interacting with the female population. Because of this rule, Janet Breslin-Smith, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James B. Smith, decided to take action. Starting in 2009, she created a network of Saudi women by hosting lunches, dinners, and meetings among Saudi women, female lawyers, and foreign academics. By devoting her time to learning about Saudi society, she added an unprecedented personal touch to her service. Breslin-Smith was previously a professor at the National War College and worked in legislative affairs in the Senate.

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  • Waad Mohammed as Wadjda. (Tobias Kownatzki/Razor Film; Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

    Inside The Kingdom

    A Girl, A Bike, A Saudi Ban

    'Wadjda,' the first full-length film to be shot in Saudi Arabia, depicts a little girl's brave quest to bike like the boys.

    From the minute we meet Wadjda, sporting converse sneakers beneath her long black robe in a suburban Riyadh classroom, it’s clear she’s not like the other girls. She spaces out while her peers recite the Quran, she waves to a passing friend, and when put on the spot she can’t recite a single verse. Most disastrous of all, she doesn’t seem to fear her superiors. It’s not that she doesn’t like them; she just can’t be bothered.

    What she does care about is bicycles. Her best friend Abdullah has one, and when he snatches her hijab off her head and rides off down the street with it, she can’t keep up on foot.

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  • HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty

    UNPRECEDENTED

    Saudi Domestic Abuse Law Passes

    “Represents a turning point.”

    In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia passed a domestic-violence law this week. It is particularly geared toward protecting women, who represent 98 percent of all domestic-abuse victims in the country, according to the law. If convicted, perpetrators face jail time of one month to one year, plus a fine of $1,330 to $13,300. Activists are pushing for immediate implementation of the law, which covers both physical and psychological abuse. “The law represents a turning point in the field of human-rights protection in the kingdom and mainly offers protection to women,” says Mufleh Qahtani, the head of Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights.  

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  • Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty

    Transit Troubles

    Planned Riyadh Subway: A Ride to Freedom

    Saudi women’s transit options will expand in 2019.

    By 2019, Saudi women will finally have an alternative to relying on men for transportation. Though the country has no immediate plans to allow them to take the wheel, construction will soon begin on a subway system in the capital city of Riyadh. The subway will cost $22 billion with six lines and a station designed by Zaha Hadid. Women are already eager for this new, inexpensive freedom: “For sure I will use the metro,” one told Reuters. “It will be a major solution for the women problem in our society.”

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  • Saudi princess Meshael Alayban listens to an interpreter during an appearance in court on July 11. (Nick Ut/AP)

    Domestic Abuse?

    The Princess & the Peon

    What pushed a Kenyan servant to flee a Saudi royal in California? By Eliza Shapiro and Christine Pelisek.

    It’s the story of the princess and her peon: a member of the Saudi royal family was arrested (PDF) in her Irvine, Calif., condo just after midnight on Tuesday for allegedly forcing a Kenyan woman to work as a domestic servant against her will.

    Now 42-year-old Meshael Alayban is facing 12 years in prison on human-trafficking charges in one of the nation’s ritziest counties.

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  • via Twitter

    WTF?

    Men Only at Women’s Conference

    A “women in society” gathering was supposedly only attended by men in Saudi Arabia.

    Saudi men supposedly ruled the room at a recent conference for “women in society,” and a photo of the conference has gone viral via Twitter. The Telegraph said this actually isn’t strange, though, considering this is a country where women cannot drive, vote, or be elected to high positions—if the photo is indeed real. Even if the photo is faked, it is still a telling magnifying glass on what Saudi Arabian society looks like. 

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  • Wajeha H. Al-Huwaider, Saudi Arabian journalist and activist. (Marc Bryan-Brown)

    Middle East

    Punishing Women Who Speak Out

    With the sentencing of two female activists who tried to help an abused woman, the Kingdom has made it clear that it will not tolerate women who stand up for other women's rights.

    Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni got an urgent call for help one afternoon two years ago from Natalie Morin, a Canadian citizen who lives in Saudi Arabia. Morin’s message said her husband had locked her and her children in their house without enough food. The two Saudi women’s rights activists tried to go to her aid.

    None of the women knew that the scenario was a trap set by Morin’s husband and the police. Morin had previously alleged that her husband was abusing her, including to Human Rights Watch. As soon as al-Huwaider and al-Oyouni arrived at Morin’s home that day, police detained them on suspicion of attempting to help her to leave the country with her children. In Saudi Arabia, that’s a crime.

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  • Mido Ahmed/AFP/Getty

    Outrage

    Saudi Women’s-Rights Activists Jailed

    Saudi Arabia has imprisoned two activists for allegedly trying to help a woman leave her abusive husband. David Keyes on why the U.S. must intervene to free them.

    Last week two prominent Saudi women’s-rights activists, Wajeha al Huweidar and Fawzia Al-’Ayouni, were sentenced to 10 months in prison and a two-year travel ban for “corrupting” a Canadian woman and allegedly trying to smuggle her out of Saudi Arabia. As one would expect from a theocratic dictatorship, the charges were trumped up and the judicial process laughable. The real aim of the case was harassing two women's-rights activists into silence.

    Shortly before her trial, Huweidar told me, “I’m naturally optimistic. I always look on the bright side. Otherwise I couldn't survive in Saudi Arabia. People live in fear here. They don't know when they will be attacked.” Her turn came a week ago as this pioneer, who was among the first women to defy the ban on driving in the kingdom, was sentenced to prison. Her case is a bellwether to see if the West is at all serious about its human-rights rhetoric.

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