The colorful Abaya

The colorful Abaya 

Let’s rewind the tape back in 2016. They are women, they are skating and playing basketball, they are dancing, having fun together at night, singing and driving bumper cars. This could perfectly be the description of a video clip of any pop idol, right?

Now, let me add some (important!) details on your imaginary: they are using dark niqab and colorful abayas. They are from Saudi Arabia. Are you surprised? Confused? Well, it’s time for me to explain… 

Back in 2016, Majedalesa – an Arabic producer – uploaded on YouTube a video that now has more than 23 million views. Nonconsensual and – let me say – risky, this production is the illustration for the song “Hwages” – “Obsessions” in English. You probably have heard about it… if not, check the link below: 

 

 

These three women appear doing things that for me, as European, I am pretty used to see my girlfriends did. But why this is so controversial in Saudi Arabia? To understand it, we should know the purpose of this video and the context around it.

 

Video shooting in 2016

One year ago, we all celebrated King Sallman’s words about the permission of women driving in Saudi Arabia. Received as a demonstration of development and hope, the rules changed and the first licenses arrived (just) in last June. We are happy about it, but we should be conscious that there are many other “simple” issues related to gender to improve in this ultra-conservative culture.

We can not say this Gulf country is exactly the same from 20 years ago… society is opening their minds and women can now reach more opportunities comparing with the past. The inequality tends to fade up and slowly we will understand the changes. However, for many women, men’s word is the last one when they want to travel abroad or opening a business. They also can be dependent when are released from jail and want to come back to society. A simple surgery is another situation when men are called to decide. This culture that promotes the men’s sovereignty for social acceptance it’s still a strong reality for some women in Saudi Arabia and it has a name: The Guardianship System.

 

Are these women criticizing it? 

The lyrics – extremely exaggerated – works as a weapon hidden behind irony asking the extermination of men because their behavior can cause mental diseases to women. This anti-men speech, also claims all the rights to women what, together with a funny and colorful visual, create a very smart caricature of society. Although, the funny approach hides a lot of important and real details about the reality that many women feel every day in Saudi Arabia.

For example: back in 2016, the driving permission for women was out of the table and, in the video, it is pretty simple to understand the critic. All the men sat in the back seat while driving the car is a little boy… A young kid was closer to drive than women just because he is a male? Another moment that represents the men attitude is the car full of guys that appear several times while they are having fun. Are they controlling them? This is what happened in their culture? Yes and (sometimes) yes…

There are many more details built to criticize men’s rules… some of them quite old-fashioned now (which is good!), but this can not take the shine of the video, right? It is important to keep the message as an example and think about gender issues not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the world. Afterward, playing with sensitive topics for calling attention we can initiate a change!

By Ricardo Leitão

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