Gender Inequality in Saudi Arabia

by Elizabeth on February 8, 2016 - 9:40pm

       As of the 2015 municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, women have officially been given the right to vote and run for office (Batrawy). This country has been progressively growing out of its male-dominant mindset in this modern age, allowing for the “gender apartheid” to slowly degenerate (Manea). However, because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia goes by the Qur’an as a model for their laws, strict gender expectations still apply nonetheless. From the point of view of the Western world, where both freedom of religion and gender equality have been points of importance in recent history, Saudi Arabia appears to be a late bloomer. Here, we will explore Canada’s Western worldview in comparison to the Saudi Arabian worldview, and how they have both been journeying to an equal society.

       In Canada, it was only in 1940 that women across the country could vote in provincial elections, as Quebec became the last province to agree on allowing women the right to vote (Jackel). Much of the delay had to do with the Church being affiliated with the government, and the many citizens who argued that there’s a place for both genders; there was no need to overlap duties. As of 2011, Canada has over 90 religions being practiced, and a significant amount of immigrants, building quite the multi-cultural country (Statistics Canada). However, most all Saudi Arabian citizens practice the Muslim religion, and with their constitution being the Qur’an, this reinforces any laws and practices held by their faith (Cole).

       In comparison, Canada’s gender equality problems in the early 1900’s and Saudi Arabia’s gender equality problems today seem to be somewhat on the same level. Women in Saudi Arabia have been very restricted for the longest time: they are not allowed to drive, travel to foreign countries without the permission of their male guardian, must depend on the males in their life to conduct all business affairs, cannot mix with men in public environments (Cole), and among other things, must wear specific garments (called abaya) at all times when men are present (Dawson). There has only been the influence of a more modern worldview recently, what with women’s right to vote and run for office.

       By comparing Saudi Arabia’s worldview to a Western worldview such as Canada’s, we are lead to the question: how can religion find its place in society without jeopardizing human rights and freedoms? Are human rights in fact universal? Saudi Arabia’s faith is embedded into their everyday life, so it does reflects each citizen, whereas Canada is more culturally diverse, and has freedom of religion, meaning there are multiple reflections of citizens. If one perception of a human right grows from one worldview, it doesn’t mean it’s of any lesser value than another, their opinions and laws are simply coming from a different perspective. Even though Saudi Arabia has only come to the practice of a more egalitarian worldview recently, this shouldn’t stifle them from progressing at the same speed as the rest of the world.

Works Cited

Batrawy, Aya. "Saudi Voters Elect 20 Women in Municipal Elections That Allowed Female Voters and Candidates for the First Time." Saudi Voters Elect 20 Women in Municipal Elections That Allowed Female Voters and Candidates for the First Time. The Montreal Gazette, 13 Dec. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Cole, Donald Powell. "Saudi Arabia." Culture of Saudi Arabia. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Dawson, Michael. "Saudi Arabia-Reflections on Women's Rights and Gender Equality by Michael Dawson." Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Jackel, Susan. "Women's Suffrage." The Canadian Encyclopedia. 08 June 2013. Web. 07 Feb. 2016

Manea, Elham. "Gefangen in Einem System Der Gender-Apartheid." 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.

Statistics Canada. "2011 National Household Survey." Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 99-010-X2011032. 07 Jan. 2016. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.



To begin, I would like to say that your article is well formulated and easy to understand. I think that religion can be a really delicate subject at times but you handled it properly. Now, as a woman I always thought that it was scandalous that Quebec waited until 1940 to give the women the right to vote. Imagine my reaction when I read your article and learnt that Saudi Arabia just recently give this right to women. I believe that this is outrageous! Women should have the same rights as men. Like you mentioned, women in Saudi Arabia depend on the men in the entourage (husband, father, brother) and I think this kind of behaviour should not be happening in 2015. Saudi Arabia women should be able to do every thing that they want on their own; they should not have to ask the permission of anyone to travel for example. Finally, I think that the term "male guardian" is very degrading. Women are not children that men have to take care of, we are human beings that can take care of themselves, just like men do.

Firstly, I'd like to say that until now I did not even know that Saudi Arabia had given voting rights to women. I feel as if giving the right for women to vote is quite useless in their society. Not because women are stupid and can't make opinions themselves, but rather because the "male guardian" might influence the woman's decision on who to vote for. Personally, I know my mom votes depending on what my dad will vote, therefore her vote is completely useless to her as she is not voting for someone she feels is deserving of the position. I can only imagine that the votes done by women in Saudi Arabia are mostly influenced by their husbands, brothers, fathers, etc. I completely agree with you, women should have the exact same rights as men, and they should be able to be autonomous, but most of these women have been in this setting for such a long time that they haven't developed this habit of being alone, therefore perhaps it would make them feel uncomfortable to be by themselves. Lastly, due to their population being very religious, it is not easy to give women rights. Having their religion a lot more strict than Christianity was towards women, I believe that it is normal for the rights of women to arise, although I have no doubt that in a few years, the women of Saudi Arabia will be as free as the women in Canada.

As a woman, I find these issues so important. I didn't know that Quebec was the last province to allow women to vote (which frustrates me tremendously) and honestly, 1940 is not that long ago in the grand scheme of the planet. But looking at Saudi Arabia and finding out women can only vote now is completely insane. It's 2016, people are better educated than they have ever been and things like this shouldn't be an issue in this day and age. Women and men should be treated equally, and we shouldn't have "guardians". We aren't children or pets, and we shouldn't have to ask permission to live life.
And yes, human rights are universal, as well as gender rights. No gender is better than another and shouldn't be treated as such.

Before I start, I want to say that your piece makes someone like me, a very privileged person living in Canada, have a good understanding of the differences between what's going on in Saudi Arabia, and what is going on in Canada. Growing up over the past 18 years in a society that strives for equality between men and women, it was downright shocking when I learnt that women only received the right to vote in 1940. This, obviously, was before I learned that religion had a big role in this delay. And this, as you explained, is also why women in Saudi Arabia haven't been seen as the persons they truly are. Which is a huge disgrace to half of the population in my opinion. But, as you mentioned, the now recent elections in Saudi Arabia have shown that they are (very slowly) progressing towards gender equality over. And amazingly, 21 women got elected into offices across the country! Unfortunately this is overshadowed by the fact that they were competing for 2,100 seats across the country, but just like our past, you have to start somewhere. And I have a feeling that it's only going to get better from here for women in Saudi Arabia. Also, NPR published a very comprehensive piece on this if you'd like to check it out;

Works Cited

“After Historic Elections In Saudi Arabia, What's The Future For Women?” NPR Staff. NPR, 22 December 2015. Web. 18
February 2016.

Your definition of "gender inequality" seems to focus on suffrage but gender inequality goes beyond that. There is no denial that it is scandalous that women in Saudi Arabia have just been given the right to vote. But the gender inequality in the Western Civilization right now is as bad or even worse. You have been criticizing about their society not having human rights but women in Canada, do they really have it? How many advertisements do you see that are portraying women as sex objects? How many cases of domestic violence and of rape are reported every year? Not even half of this happen to men. Today, a women's value is been defined by her look rather by her intellect. Her purpose: to satisfy the men's desire and to carry its offspring. For instance, a woman only makes about 77 cents for every dollar a man makes in the USA. In short, religion certainly does play a large role in one's world view but plays only so in gender inequality. Gender inequality hits everywhere, not only places where religion is dominant. It's only part of a bigger problem, the patriarchial world. If you are in knowing more, I invite you to read this article:

Firstly, I would like to thank you for talking about such a topic because it just puzzles me that there is a country out there that treats women the way they currently do in this day and age. As a practicing Muslim I do have some background knowledge on the basic fundamentals of Islam surrounding the gender inequality portion you speak of. I think it’s insane that women recently got the right to vote and also the fact that women are not allowed to drive in their own country, but this has nothing to do with the religion of Islam itself. It is the patriarchal monarchy that governs Saudi Arabia that implemented these kinds of laws that prevent women from experiencing the many pleasures associated with freedom that we are able to experience on a daily basis here in Canada. Furthermore the Quran preaches more about equality among men and women than what is actually interpreted by the government. There are strict rules about how men should behave and dress as well, and women are encouraged to be educated and are allowed to conduct businesses. This is what happens when the society has a patriarchal mindset.

The dress code is meant to keep their image “pure” in a sense that they don’t want women to be objectified; this is something that comes from the Quran because it’s important that women should not be judged by how they look but by their intellect. The purpose that male guardians serve is that they have to protect the women, yet here I am in Canada, independently walking to places I want to go to without any supervision and thankfully nothing terrible has happened to me. I could go on forever but, if they really were being true with themselves they would know that in the Quran, God declares, “…In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware” (49:13). Thus stating that men and women are equal in front of God. Also another thing is that men and women must congregate every year in Mecca (which is in Saudi Arabia) to perform the pilgrimage and the women keep their faces visible; something mentioned in the article that I will provide at the end of this paragraph.

Works cited: where I got the line from the Quran
Pervez, Saulat. "Hijab In Islam." WhyIslam. N.p., 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.

Chama Ilali
Victor Fillion-Cloutier

This article is great because it is well written and based on many facts. The title drew us to this post because we both do not really know about the subject of gender inequality in Saudi Arabia and we were more likely to learn about a new subject. We were surprised by how the laws strongly privilege men. For example, women’s in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive a car and this law is against women freedom and it strengthen the male privilege. In addition, we can both blame the government and the religion for this problem because the government promotes the religion that itself promotes male privilege. This article is really interesting because it comes up with many facts that we can explore and it will make us learn more about gender inequality across the globe. In conclusion, theoretically, the gender equality in Saudi Arabia is similar to our gender equality (in Canada) 100 years ago. Saudi Arabia and Canada might one day be on the same level regarding gender inequality.

Actually, I believe that the fact that women now have the right to vote in Saudi Arabia is a big change in their country. Maybe for us, it doesn't seem to be a lot because it now makes 76 years that women have the right to vote all over Canada but this change will be followed by a lot more changes in their country. The fact that women can vote in Saudi Arabia is important because with this right, women will be able to determine who is going to be the leader of their municipality. This future leader could be against the unfair power that a man can have over women, not that he thinks that they should be equal but simply that men should control less women, give them a little bit more freedom. Also, now, women can be part of the election and run for office. This could really help the progress of a modern spirit (right now, they really think in a old way). If a women is in power, even if it's for a little territory, she will be able to make changes, good changes for women freedom. Those two changes really help the progress of genre equality in this country because without it, men would never vote for a women so it would be impossible for a women to be elected. And the question is; how can religion take place in the society without depriving the human rights? For some country, it's hard to have both (strong religion and no violation of women rights). In Canada, as it is said, in 1900, women had the same right than women in Saudi Arabia today. Now, in Canada, Religion is still in place (maybe less strong than before) and women have close to the same rights that men do. There still is some little things that isn't the same for women and men (swimsuit, women can't be topless in the street, sometimes the salary, etc.) but overall, women have strong rights and nothing is depriving their human rights. I believe that one day, with the globalization, Saudi Arabia will be able to get over their religion (not to loose their faith but to give less place to religion) and that women will have close to the same rights as men.

First of all, the fact that women in Saudi Arabia have been given the right to vote is obviously an important step towards gender equality as women are granted a more important role in the society. However, I believe that with this alone, the problem of gender equality in Saudi Arabia still remains far from being resolved. Since women live under the supervision of their “male guardians”, their right to vote is restrained because they are highly influenced by the male who supervise them. For instance, as mentioned in the article, women are not allowed to drive a car without their “male guardian”. This ideology goes entirely against the idea of what is gender equality. I believe that the only way for this country to truly improve in terms of gender equality would be for them to separate religion from politics. If we take for example Canada, gender equality became an important issue that people felt the need to resolve as the church stepped away from the political scene. Of course, there are still problems of gender equality in Canada. However, if we take a look at all of the progress that we have done in the last 70 years or so, we have improved a lot and I believe that this has to do with the removal of the Church’s influence on political decisions. I believe that religion has an important role in every society. However, its place simply does not belong in politics because spirituality and faith are concepts that cannot be universalized and do not apply to everybody.