A Woman Was Arrested in Saudi Arabia Because of What She Was Wearing

A woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia earlier this week for wearing a skirt and crop top with uncovered hair.

In a Snapchat video posted without her knowledge by popular user Khulood, she was filmed walking through an ancient fort in the village Ushayqir, located in the Najd province—a particularly conservative area. The video went viral, sparking outcry from both those who believed she should be arrested and those who criticized this reaction.

According to a statement released by the Saudi Center of International Communication, the woman was released without charge on Tuesday night after “a few hours” of questioning.

In a country with stringent laws limiting women’s independence—where women need the permission of a male guardian to complete basic transactions and are unable to get driver’s licenses—the woman was held to a standard that immediately polarized audiences after news of her arrest broke:

Such an outfit runs afoul of conservative Islamic ideas about women’s dress that are prevalent in Saudi Arabia. The country legally requires women to cover themselves while in public by wearing an abaya, a loosefitting cloak. Traditionally, Saudi women are also expected to wear some kind of hijab or head covering, and some opt to cover their face with a niqab.

Although foreigners are usually exempted from such rules and Saudi women often find ways to evade them, many conservative Saudis feel strongly about the dress codes.

Ushayqir appears deserted in the video, but the footage soon spread online and quickly drew criticism — with many Saudis using a hashtag that calls for the woman to face trial.

Some argued that because the woman lived in Saudi Arabia, she should accept its laws. “Just like we call on people to respect the laws of countries they travel to, people must also respect the laws of this country,” Saudi writer Ibrahim al-Munayif wrote on his Twitter account.

But others offered support for the woman, suggesting that her behavior was brave and that prominent foreigners sometimes dress similarly when visiting Saudi Arabia and are exempted from the country’s dress codes. Many pointed out that Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump did not wear abayas when they visited the country in May, to little public outcry.

Read the full piece at The Washington Post.

Maddie Kim is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a sophomore at Stanford University, where she studies English and creative writing. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Norman Mailer Center, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada Review and Adroit Prizes. She is a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. When she’s not writing, she likes tap dancing and taking blurry photos of her dogs. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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