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Eight times Saudi women smashed the status-quo in 2016 Open in fullscreen

Shams Al-Shakarchi

Eight times Saudi women smashed the status-quo in 2016

Saudi women smash stereotypes in a new viral video [YouTube]

Date of publication: 31 December, 2016

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Known as being highly-conservative, Saudi Arabia – the only country to ban women from driving – still has some way to achieve equal rights, but progress was made in 2016.
At the end of 2015, Saudi women were allowed to vote in elections for the first time ever – a tentative, tiny step towards easing widespread sex discrimination in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

But, despite some efforts made to empower women, Saudi Arabia is still the only country in the world where women are banned from driving, along with other societal pressures and laws that restrict the rights of women.

While amendments to outdated laws have helped to progress women's rights, 2016 has also seen Saudi women take matters into their own hands to challenge restrictive customs and forge a new place in society.

Here are just some examples of how Saudi women have made progress this year.

1. The kingdom doubled the number of female athletes representing it at the Olympics

Saudi women wanting to play sports face a number of obstacles due to strict gender segregation laws and the country's dress code.

However, four Saudi female athletes took part in the Rio games, including marathon runner Sarah al-Attar, judoka Wujud Fahmi, fencer Lubna al-Omair and 100m runner Cariman Abu al-Jadail.

Both Attar and Fahmi were returning to the games after they became the country's first female Olympians in London four years ago.

2. Saudi brides will now get a copy of their marriage contracts

This was a "privilege" that was exclusive to men, but now brides will receive a copy "to ensure her awareness of her rights and the terms of contract".

(Women still need the permission of their male guardians to get married in Saudi Arabia).

3. #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship

In September, tens of thousands of women voiced their opposition to the country's paternalistic practices following a Human Rights Watch campaign to end guardianship laws, which require them to seek the approval of a male guardian for the most simple transactions and activities, including travel, renewing a passport or going to work.

4. Saudi women launch job search app

Despite needing male permission to be employed, six graduates from Jeddah developed SnapJob to allow young men and women to find the right jobs in both the private and public sectors.

It showed Saudi women are now taking on a greater role in public life, with jobs mostly in the education sector.

Currently, 400,000 women are working in Saudi Arabia, compared with less than 55,000 before 2009, according to the labour ministry.

5. Women could be allowed to pass on their citizenship to children from non-Saudi spouses

While the proposal only focuses on granting the children of Saudi women the right to citizenship and not their husbands, the move was welcomed by activists as a step towards equal rights.

6. Saudi woman makes a stand – in a dress

Malak al-Shehri caused a stir in November after a picture emerged online of her walking in the streets of the capital Riyadh without an abaya or covering her hair.

Although it prompted death threats from some ultra-orthodox social media users, Shehri was also praised for her brave move to challenge Saudi social norms and the constraints imposed on women.

Translation: "Angel Shehri hasn't done anything wrong she has just gone back to the days before the Islamic Awakening, which destroyed our society. You all should thank her."

7. Greater female participation in country's Shura Council

Following the Shura re-shuffle in December women now account for a 20 percent quota in the council – a political advisory body. A notable step in a country where women are not allowed to hold high political office.

Women were first accepted onto the 150 seat council in 2013, a year before they were given the vote in the country.

And if that is not enough to show how Saudi women are becoming more empowered...

8. This viral video of dancing Saudi women smashes all stereotypes

A new music video of Saudi women skating, playing basketball, singing and dancing has become an online hit.

Directed by Majed Alesa, Hwages – meaning "concerns" – has already gained half a million views since it was posted online on 23 December.

It shows three Saudi women wearing brightly-coloured dresses beneath their abayas shooting hoops and rollerblading – as well as a young boy driving, poking fun at the country's ban on women behind the wheels.

We look forward to seeing what 2017 holds for these amazing women!

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