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  • A Saudi woman sits in a car during a driving training at a university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

    A Saudi woman sits in a car during a driving training at a university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 September 2018
Opinion

Women from Saudi Arabia have started an online campaign, where they remove their veils to protest against the country's archaic customs.

Scores of women from Saudi Arabia have joined an online campaign where they remove their niqab (face-veil) and hijab (head scarf). Niqab and hijab are customary in some Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, but it is not a requirement by law and is instead enforced by religious and social customs. 

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To protest against the custom, which is based on Islamic Sharia Law, a young Saudi woman Taraf Alsiri reportedly became the first woman to remove her hijab and post her unveiled face on Twitter.

Her actions sparked a movement on Twitter where other women from Saudi Arabia started posting their pictures without the niqab or hijab. The women are using the hashtag “SolidaritywithTaraf” which went viral on social media over the last few days.

"I cut my hair and removed the niqab... and I wondered why I’ve been covering my face this whole time. I realized it’s because of silly habits and traditions that don’t allow me to be free, " Taraf wrote.

Prominent women's rights activist from Saudi Arabia, Manal Sharif, also joined the campaign posting her uncovered face. While human rights activist and feminist Inna Shevchenko also posted in solidarity with Taraf.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister for Girls’ Education, Haya Awad, sparked controversy when she appeared in public without covering her face. While most people condemned the act, many supported the deputy minister, including several clerics, who said that niqab is not compulsory in Islam and it is a matter still open to research and discussion.

In 2017, a young Saudi lawyer was kicked out of a court in Riyadh for not covering her face.

In March, while being interviewed by the United States based television channel CBS, the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said that Sharia law does not require women to wear a hijab or niqab. It only requires women to dress modestly.

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"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," Bin Salman said.

The online movement is the most recent in a series of protests in Saudi women's fight to be recognized as equal to their male counterparts. Before this most recent online protest, the women of the kingdom fought to have the right to drive and eventually in 2018, they were allowed to drive without permission from a male guardian.

Even though resistance to the country's traditional values is increasing, many activists have also come under attack from authorities for their human rights work. In August, it was reported that a prominent Saudi female activist Israa al-Ghomgham would be the first woman to be executed in the country for her activism.

The crackdown on dissent and a ban on public protests hasn't curbed activists from finding creative ways to register their discontent with the country's customs. 

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