11/19/2016, 17.28
SAUDI ARABIA
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Saudi women searching for change, from clothes to society

In recent years, cultural mixing, social media and globalisation are changing many societies in the world, even that of Saudi Arabia. Changing clothing style, the ability to work, and time abroad have raised awareness among women.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Even in the capital of Saudi Arabia, known for its cultural conservatism, globalisation and media-mediated models are leading to western-styled openness. One of the first timid signs of the changing society is clothing.

Increasingly, people no longer consider mandatory the niqab, which covers the face, except the eyes. This is especially true for women who don’t feel obliged to walking the streets covering their faces, opting instead for the hijab, the Islamic veil that covers the hair, sometimes even with strands of their hair showing, combined with colourful abayas or cloaks instead of the traditional black colour.

“I know families [in Riyadh], the eldest sibling could not wear hijab alone - she had to wear niqab, but the youngest sister can now walk even without a scarf on her hair in some places,” said Rawan Al-Wabel, a mother of three and a health care worker.

“I have been living in Riyadh since last four years, but I am the daughter of Dammam,” she noted. “In Dammam, it was much easier to be a hijabi,” attributing her home city’s much liberal climate due to its “diversity” where “people come from different areas.” Dammam is in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Asked if women in Riyadh are becoming bolder in their dressing like their eastern and western counterparts in the kingdom, Najla Al-Sulaiman, 30, said, “Of course.”

Sulaiman, who did a Master in the United States from 2011 till 2015, said “the difference through the three years was extremely striking” when she returned to Riyadh. “You see more colourful abayas, more women who are not covering their faces.”

Sulaiman, who does not wear the hijab when travelling outside Saudi Arabia like many other compatriot women from her country, said: “While the overwhelming majority are still covering the hair, I have seen girls without head scarfs.”

Nouf Al-Wabel, 33, who works in the human resources sector in Riyadh, said the “change itself is in wearing more colours and not just black.”

“We see it in hospitals, medical centres, and banks,” she added. “The change is happening in media, and media is changing many people.”

Different cultures coming together, social media, globalisation or women going to work and earning their own income, are all factors these women consider behind the change.

A law passed by the Saudi government in April has also helped by restricting the Committee of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the “religious police” or “hai’a”.

In late September, about 15,000 women signed a petition, which they sent to the government, calling for an end to male guardianship.

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