“Inside out and round and round…”

Inside Out – popular song lyrics as well as a coming of age film, but now also a new hashtag for an important socio-cultural protest.

Women in Saudi Arabia, still clamouring for basic human rights that we more than take for granted in the West, have launched a protest against the abaya, a full-length robe worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world, by wearing the garment inside out.

Long, black, and covering the entire body except the hands and feet, the abaya is ubiquitous across the Saudi Arabian kingdom, even though earlier this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman reportedly stated that women in the country need not feel obliged to wear it, as long as they dress in a “decent and respectful” manner.

“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of sharia [Islamic law]: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” Mr Salman said in an interview with CBS, and reported in the UK’s Independent.

Yet many women in the country have revealed that they still feel obligated to wear the garment, which has led to the rise of the “inside-out abaya” movement.

“Because #Saudi feminists are endlessly creative, they come up with [a] new form of protest and given it [the] hashtag ‘inside-out abaya’,” activist Nora Abdulkarim tweeted.

“To see another woman in flipped abayas - it builds solidarity between women and shows that they are not alone,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation and reported in the Independent.

“It is keeping the conversation going and could lead to change.

“It is another form of dehumanisation for women. It forces women to cover up their bodies in order to fit into society and the role of being inferior to men.”

Despite the supposed wave of reforms sweeping across Saudi Arabia, women are still denied basic rights, with the ongoing male guardianship system giving men the ability to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives. This means, for example, that even though women were given the ability to drive earlier this year, their male relatives must also still grant them the permission to do so.

You can read more about the hashtag “inside-out abaya” at the Guardian and the Independent UK

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