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Saudi women arrive at a mosque in Riyadh.
Hassan Ammar/AP
Girls & Women

Saudi Arabian Women Are Wearing Their Clothes Inside Out to Protest Dress Codes


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Many women in the Arab world do not have the choice to wear what they want due to Islamic laws. Women in Saudi Arabia are using the hashtag #InsideOutAbaya on Twitter to fight for gender equality in the country. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Women in Saudi Arabia are subtly protesting the country’s conservative dress code, the BBC reports

Some women are wearing the abaya, a traditional robe Muslim women in the country have been forced to wear for decades, inside out. They’re using the hashtag #InsideOutAbaya to share their opposition of the garment that covers the entire body. 

Take Action: Urge Leaders to Step Up for Women’s Rights and Health

"We have to work full-time with the niqab [a face veil] and abaya,” one Saudi woman tweeted

“This is a heavy burden for a person to bear," she explained. 

As of Thursday, women, mostly from Saudi Arabia, had sent 5,000 protest tweets under the hashtag, according to the BBC.

Not wearing an abaya has had serious consequences in the country. In 2017, police arrested a Saudi woman who appeared on Snapchat wearing a short skirt and crop top in public, according to Reuters. 

“To see another woman in flipped abayas — it builds solidarity between women and shows that they are not alone. It is keeping the conversation going and could lead to change,” Amani Al-Ahmadi, a Saudi activist with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor told Reuters. 

In March, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said wearing abayas isn’t mandatory in Islam, and advised women to dress modestly, but women still feel pressure to continue wearing them since the dress code hasn’t been officially lifted.  

“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” Prince Mohammed said

"This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear," he explained. 

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Recently Saudi Women have started wearing more colorful abayas and styling them over long skirts or jeans as forms of self-expression, according to Reuters. 

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East expert with global advocacy group Equality Now, told Reuters the abaya should be optional.

“Many women and girls in the Arab world are still forced to wear the hijab and the abaya either by their family or by their country — and they should have the right to choose,” she said

Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the most restrictive places in the world for women.

The country only lifted its decades-long driving ban in June, following its January decision to let women attend sporting events. 

On the surface, it may look like the country is easing up on laws that oppress women under Prince Mohammed, but its punishment of women’s rights activists suggests otherwise. The guardianship system, requiring women to get approval from a male relative before doing most things, remains Saudi Arabia’s biggest threat to women’s rights, advocates argue.

“It’s time for real change rather than insincere rhetoric about reform,” Naureen Shameem, a human rights lawyer who works with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, said in support of the #InsideOutAbaya campaign.