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Women are not allowed to use public swimming pools available to men and can swim only in private ones or female-only gyms and spas.
Reuters editor Arlene Getz describes her experience of trying to use the gym and pool at an upmarket Riyadh hotel: “As a woman, I wasn’t even allowed to look at them (‘there are men in swimsuits there,’ a hotel staffer told me with horror) – let alone use them.”But even that is expected to change in the coming years, under the Crown Prince’s push to make Saudi Arabia more attractive to foreign visitors and investors.
In May 2017, activists won a small but significant victory when King Salman issued an order specifying that women did not need permission from their male guardian for some activities, including entering university, taking a job and undergoing surgery.
Many clerics argued that allowing women to drive would inevitably mean contact with unrelated men, and thus would undermine the country’s strict principles of gender segregation.
But although women’s rights have been incrementally extended in recent years – for instance, they were allowed to vote and stand as candidates in local elections for the first time in 2015 – their public behaviour is still severely restricted.
Last year, Saudi Arabia proposed hosting an Olympic Games without women.
“Our society can be very conservative,” said Prince Fahad bin Jalawi al-Saud, a consultant to the Saudi Olympic Committee.
Part of his economic plan involves the development of tourist resorts along the Red Sea coast, says The Atlantic.
“The facilities will be built to ‘international standards’, a term widely interpreted as allowing not only gender-mixed bathing, but also bikinis and probably alcohol,” the website adds.Although guardianship is not enshrined in written law, government officials, courts, businesses and individual Saudis generally act in accordance with it, meaning that, in practice, women need their guardian’s consent for any major activity, including travel, obtaining a passport, getting married or divorced and signing contracts.The system makes it “nearly impossible” for victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse to obtain legal redress because the police often insist that women and girls obtain their guardian's authorisation to file a complaint - even when the complaint is against the guardian, political scientist Elham Manea writes for Deutsche Welle.Here are six things Saudi women are still unable to do: With the driving ban victory still fresh, Saudi women’s rights activists are eyeing up the next hurdle – dismantling the kingdom’s guardianship system, which Human Rights Watch has called “the most significant impediment to realising women’s rights in the country”.All women in the kingdom are considered to have a male “wali” – an official guardian, typically a father, brother, uncle or husband.But this does not stop the religious police from harassing women for exposing what they consider to be too much flesh or wearing too much make-up.