Women are banned from basically anything. They are not allowed to leave the house by themselves. They are not allowed to drive. Most professions they are banned from. They can’t be anywhere where they could be in contact with men not from their family.
Last month a girl filed sexual harassment charges against coworkers. When she appeared for the hearing, she was arrested and then sentenced to 300 lashes and 2 months in jail – because she had shown up in court without a male to accompany her.
Women cannot work anywhere males could be. On my first day I did not see a single female, from arriving at the airport, driving to the hotel to checking in, everyone was male. Let me tell you you miss the sole sight of women very quickly. The world is just an uglier place without them.
Restaurants, public buildings, shopping centers have two doors. One for bachelors, one for family. None for girls. Female doctors can’t treat men, male doctors can’t see females. This week a girl died in school because the male emergency team was not allowed to enter the girl school’s compound. There are no female emergency doctors. None that are allowed to drive at least.
While on the surface the religious and traditional oppression seems ubiquitous, after a while you begin to see signs of modernization. Not a week passes without the local paper reporting on proposed women rights or liberalization, or on the latest legal scandal involving women unfairly tried.
I am in one of the most Western and liberal cities in the country. There is hardly any “virtue police”, and when there is they just walk around looking bored.
Occasionally you see women without complete hijab, and sometimes Western women without even headscarfs. Some wear very tight garments, makeup you can see through the veils, and stylish sunglasses. Some let a strain of hair or two fall over their eyes.
One time an SUV with tinted windows drove by, and as they passed us the rear windows were lowered and a couple of girls in full makeup and uncovered happily laughed and waved at us. Nothing similar has happened since then though, and no local can believe this story.
Where consumer product ads in the West are usually presented by attractive women, billboards here feature exclusively males in traditional clothing. Sometimes this appears a bit absurd, when something like shampoo is advertised by a guy in a full scarf that covers all his hair.
Things are different on The Company area. Women are not required to cover, and many use that freedom to walk around dressed in so few clothes they would draw views in the West. Women can drive as well within the compound, which makes for absurd instances, since the main company compound is divided by a public road. More than once have I seen meetings canceled because a female colleague couldn’t make it over the public road because she didn’t find a male driver.
The government carefully tries to improve women’s rights. I guess they fully realize the devastating effect on the economy the gender segregation has. However, all attempts to lift gender restrictions are met by furious resistance from the powerful clerics.
Since he published an open letter asking for an end to gender segregation last year, the head of the virtue police of all people faces wild opposition up to death threats by the religious conservatives. He has started a public discussion about segregation though, and accelerated the pace at which more women rights are being proposed or actually introduced. Allowing women to appear before a court by themselves is one of them. Even allowing women to drive is being discussed now.
Meanwhile, I don’t think that poor girl did get many responses on her dating site. All other similar online portals are blocked by censorship anyway – no Game Crush around here!