It was the snap seen around the world. Just six seconds long, but enough to change a woman’s life forever.
On Monday, a woman was casually seen walking in the desert streets in a short skirt and a black crop top. It is summer after all, and she probably wanted to stay cool in the heat. However, she was in Saudi Arabia, a country where there are strict laws regarding how women dress and feminine identity.
As the woman smiled and coyly looked at the camera before sauntering on, this visual opened up an entire investigation into her identity, her whereabouts, and eventually her arrest.
The girl in the video has since been detained by the Saudi police and a special investigation is being held for the “girl in offensive clothing.” The case is being handled by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the religious police.
So why is this act considered offensive?
Saudi Arabia is a strict muslim country and there are certain rules that women must obey or risk being punished. While in public, women are expected to be covered from head to toe, literally. They are required to wear something called an abaya ( a long black robe), a hijab ( a headscarf), and finally a veil to cover their faces, where normally only the eyes are visible.
In other muslim countries, the rules of dress may vary and some places in Dubai have signs posted asking their customers to wear respectful clothing , where shoulders and knees should be covered. There is also a law in Dubai which prohibits men and women from drinking alcohol, kissing, holding hands, and, most obviously, having sex in public.
Each county comes with their specific set of rules that residents have to abide by or risk being punished. Doesn’t the same go for Canada? Public sex is illegal in this country as well as displays of indecent exposure. There are also various laws concerning alcohol. In Quebec, you can easily purchase alcohol at your local grocery or corner store, but in Ontario, there are designated places to purchase alcohol such as the Beer Store and the LCBO.
My point is that every country, or even provinces, have different laws to govern and while the rules of Saudi Arabia are deemed oppressive towards women, there will always be a debate whether to support or punish. Another case making the headlines in Saudi Arabia, for example, relates to women being able to drive in the country. It is illegal for women to drive due to deep religious beliefs in which female drivers are said to undermine social values of the country. In 2011, there was a campaign in protest entitled “Women2Drive” where women were encouraged to show themselves driving on social media.
There are still various groups that advocate for female rights in Saudi Arabia, as women are still required to have male guardianship for government services, including applying for a passport or travelling abroad. A woman must get consent from her husband, father, or other male relative.
As for the woman in in the short snap, she continues to be the subject of a questionable debate, highlighting the issues of women’s rights in strict muslim countries. By the way, the viral video of that woman was shared without her knowledge — not cool friend, not cool !