Saudi women have launched a social media protest against being forced to wear an all-in-one black robe by posting pictures and video of the conservative garment inside out.
The rare protest has seen women posting pictures on social media wearing the body-shrouding robe, known as the abaya, the wrong way round in public.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women, who are required to wear the typically all-black garment in public.
Powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in March that wearing the robe was not mandatory in Islam, but in practice nothing changed and no formal edict to that effect was issued, meaning many women still feel forced to wear the garment.
Using the hashtag ‘inside-out abaya’, dozens of women have posted pictures of flipped robes in a protest against the strict dress code.
Dozens of Saudi women took to social media and posted pictures of them wearing the conservative abaya robe inside out to protest being forced to wear the garment in public
Some women shared images of them protesting with a close up of the stitching alongside the hashtag #ForcedToWearIt
Using the hashtag ‘inside-out abaya’, dozens of women posted pictures of flipped robes in a protest against the strict Saudi dress code
Activist Nora Abdulkarim tweeted this week: ‘Because #Saudi feminists are endlessly creative, they’ve come up with new form of protest.
‘They are posting pictures of (themselves) wearing their abayas inside-out in public as a silent objection to being pressured to wear it.’
Another woman on Twitter said the online campaign, which appears to be gaining traction after it surfaced this week, was an act of ‘civil protest’.
Some women shared images of them protesting alongside the hashtag #ForcedToWearIt.
One activist wrote:: ‘As a #Saudi woman, I don’t enjoy freedom to cloth. I am forced by the law to wear Abaya (black robe) everywhere but my house, which. I. can’t. take. any. more.’
A woman who videoed herself on a bus wearing an abaya inside out with the caption: ‘I’m free and I’ll stay free.’
In an interview to CBS Television in March, the crown prince said: ‘The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men.’
One woman on Twitter said the online campaign, which appears to be gaining traction after it surfaced this week, was an act of ‘civil protest’
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said wearing the robe was not mandatory in Islam, but in practice nothing changed and no formal edict to that effect was issued, meaning many women still feel forced to wear the garment
But, he added, this ‘does not particularly specify a black abaya. It is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire to wear.’
After his comment, prominent Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamdi dismissed the long-held view that black was the only colour for abayas permissible in Islam.
Prince Mohammed, currently facing global criticism over the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi, has spearheaded a liberalisation drive in the conservative kingdom.
In June, women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time in decades as the kingdom overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists.
The kingdom has also allowed women to enter sports stadiums, previously a male-only arena, and is pushing for greater participation of women in the workforce as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
But in tandem with the reforms, the kingdom has seen a wave of arrests of women activists in recent months as it steps up a crack down on dissent.
The country also faces criticism over its male guardianship system, which allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.