A group of Saudi women have launched a new online campaign against the mandatory 'abaya' dress code, enforced by the kingdom's authorities, by sharing pictures of themselves wearing the loose-fitting black robes inside out.
The women, who say they are sick of having to wear the "stifling" and "dull, monochromatic" traditional garb in Saudi Arabia, are using the hashtag '#Abaya_InsideOut' in Arabic to spread their message on Twitter.
Most women in Saudi Arabia must adhere to a dress code in public and at work, which requires them to wear the loose black garment known as abaya, while many also wear a face veil (niqab) or a headscarf. Saudi private sector workers usually have more lenient restrictions on the clothes they can wear at work.
"Were we born to hide?" asked one Saudi woman on Twitter, in reference to the dress code and the niqab.
In another angry tweet, Howraa said: "Starting from today I will wear my abaya inside out to protest customs and government rules that threaten us if we dare to show our identity... we have to work full hours wearing the niqab and the abaya because the workplace has men and women, but this is a heavy burden."
The hashtag has since been trending, with high-profile women rights activists joining the campaign, including Malak al-Shehri, who was arrested in December 2016 and threatened with public flogging after removing her veil on Twitter to protest the kingdom's strict dress code.
Shehri wrote: "No one will understand the feeling protesting oppression gives you except those who do it... it is a great feeling to express your rejection even through the simplest of actions to provoke those who oppose your choices and your freedom."
In March, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said that women do not have to wear the abaya and hijab so long as they maintain a 'modest' appearance in public. But on the ground, the dress code continues to be enforced by the government.
The online protest comes amid ongoing local and international backlash against bin Salman following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government agents linked to the crown prince, with questions now about his credentials as a "reformer".
Despite some of his limited reforms and easing of restrictions on women, including lifting a ban on women drivers, his administration continues to jail women's rights activists who lobbied against the ban. Scores of clerics, bloggers, journalists and even royal family members seen as a threat to his rule have also been detained.
The state-enforced system of male guardianship also remains in place, dicating that women must obtain permission from a male relative - a husband, father, brother or uncle - for even the most mundane of tasks, including journeying outside of one's home.
"Better believe #SaudiWomen can move mountains," wrote Amani al-Ahmadi on Twitter.
"While western women march for their right to choose what to wear, women in the Middle East are still fighting a system that forces them to wear an abaya."
This article has been adapted from its original source.
Copyright @ 2021 The New Arab.