In last couple of days, the hashtag #Solidarity_with_Tarif_Alassiri has been gaining momentum on social media in response to the online backlash the Saudi feminist and activist Tarif Alassiri received when she took off her hijab and niqab.
— ترف العسيري. (@tarif_77) September 14, 2018
Women all over the kingdom have been posting pictures and videos without their face and hair veils to combat the reinforced social practice. The veil is part of not only the kingdom’s but also other Gulf counties’ traditional wear. However, there is no law in the constitution that forces women to cover their faces or hair.
— JAY (@j112595) September 19, 2018
This was not the first campaign attempting to combat the face and head veil. In August, another campaign under the hashtag #BurnTheNiqab has circulated around the internet. After several European countries started banning the niqab, social media users encouraged Saudi women to reclaim their freedom by “burning” their veils.
This is huge. A trending hashtag in #SaudiArabia is encouraging women to #BurnTheNiqab, the compulsory headdress for #Saudi women. Female Twitter users have posted videos of themselves burning their Niqabs. #حرق_النقاب @WM_Global @manal_alsharif @MadawiDr @ConfessionsExMu pic.twitter.com/AArNGHuIxc
— Sarah Al-Otaibi (@SarahAlOxoxo) August 20, 2018
The country’s laws, especially women’s rights laws, are inspired from the Islamic Shari’aa laws. However, the rise of women’s rights movement in the country have sparked debates in the recent years. In an interview aired on CBS News with Norah O’Donnell, Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman said “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men.”
He added, “This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”
Prior to the current reform movement initiated by Mohamed Bin Salman as part of his vision 2030 reform plan, the kingdom’s social norms were dictated by the Wahhabi movement: a revivalist “ultraconservative’ movement founded by Mohamed Ibn Abdul Wahhab to preserve the purity of Islam by banning “un-Islamic” practices and behavior.
However, the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman aims to take the kingdom to a more progressive and secular future not just in terms of women’s dress code, but also in terms of granting women their longed for rights.
This began when he disbanded the ‘Hay’a’ or Islamic police for arresting women who are not wearing a abaya, the traditional Saudi black dress, the headscarf or face veil.
Mohamed Bin Salman’s reform vision granted many firsts for the women in the kingdom. Just this summer, the kingdom seated its women behind the wheels for the first time. After finally allowing women to drive cars, the world’s biggest flight training program, Oxford Aviation Academy, opened its doors to welcome numerous female pilots in its branch in Saudi Arabia. In October of 2017, women were finally allowed inside football stadiums for the first time without facing legal charges.
In 2016, the first female news anchor stepped on national television channel ‘Saudi TV Channel 1’. On Sunday, which happens to be the country’s 88th national day, the news channel made waves again by airing the first nightly new bulletin presented by a woman.
While the country continues to celebrate many of its women’s achievements, not everyone is happy about the development. Many Saudi men still follow the Wahhabi trail of thought. They continue to put constrains on women by forcing them to wear the hijab, abandon their education and stay at home; nonetheless, Mohammed Bin Salman hopes to change this phenomena by the end of the reform period.