Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 17:01 UK

Saudi Arabia 'restricting women'

By Sebastian Usher
Arab affairs editor, BBC News

Saudi women and men (file image)
Saudi women wear the veil when they go out in public

A human rights group has accused Saudi Arabia of not living up to a commitment to end the tradition of male guardianship of women.

The system makes women dependent on men to manage their most basic affairs.

Human Rights Watch says women are still being prevented from travelling or receiving medical treatment without a male guardian's permission.

Saudi authorities say male guardianship is not a requirement of Islam and they are working towards ending it.

Saudi Arabia is the heartland of the Muslim world, and prides itself on adhering to what it considers to be the authentic spirit of Islam.

A key aspect of this is the role of women.

The traditional code of the Bedouin as well as Saudi Arabia's conservative religious elite require that women should be kept separate from men to whom they are not related.

The idea of a woman's honour is central to Saudi society. A whole family suffers shame if a woman is seen as transgressing this code.

All are veiled to a greater or lesser degree in public, they are not allowed to drive, and women under 45 must receive permission from a male when they travel.

Little progress

Opportunities for education and employment are also dependent on male guardianship.

Some Saudi women say they appreciate the protection they are given - and do not feel it denies their rights in any significant way.

And in practice, many Saudi families are privately becoming more relaxed, reducing the control of male guardians on women's lives.

The Saudi authorities say that male guardianship is not a requirement of Islam, and they have said they will work towards ending it.

But Human Rights Watch says it has seen little progress so far. It has called on the Saudi government to stop the practice rather than pretending to stop it.

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