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Saudi Arabia to bar women from 'showing off their beauty' on television

The Shura Council has approved a law requiring women to wear black headscarves and abayas while on air in the conservative kingdom
Female members of Saudi Arabia's advisory Shura Council attend a session (AFP)

Saudi Arabia’s consultative assembly has passed a law requiring female television to wear “modest dress”, according to local media reports.

Arab News, which is part of a group of companies owned by King Salman's son Prince Turki, said the law passed in the Shura Council, an advisory body, will make it mandatory for women not to “show off their beauty” while on air.

The law will come into force once approved by the country's cabinet and will apply to “women media workers in the Kingdom” including on the MBC and Rotana channels, the chairperson of the Shura Council media committee Ahmed al-Zailaee said.

Some members of the council said there are other more important matters to focus on.

“There are many other pressing issues such as the danger posed by the media activities of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group,” Latifa al-Shualan, a Shura member, was reported as having said.

The new legislation comes after an announcement in January by the national Saudi Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) that it would implement a dress code for its female television presenters. The code demands that female media workers wear black headscarves and abayas (full-length cloak), which the SBC said would be decorated with the corporate colours of the relevant television channel.

The SBC dress code for female presenters (Arab News)

The SBC announcement was opposed by some members of the Shura Council, who said there was no law imposing a dress code for women in Saudi Arabia, which has now been remedied with the proposed new legislation.

Ibrahim Abu Obat, another Shura member, was reported by Arab News as having called for a full national dress code for all women representing the Gulf state, not just those on television.

“We need to have a clear Islamic dress for all women as their national dress,” he said. “The dress code must not be confined to women presenters and news readers on television.”

The call for a national dress code for female state representatives has emerged after a controversy involving Manal Radhwan, a member of the kingdom’s United Nations delegation, spoke to the Security Council on 30 January without wearing a headscarf or abaya.

Radhwan was the first women to speak on behalf of Saudi Arabia at the Security Council and faced criticism at home for her decision not to wear “modest dress”.

“She has caused us deep embarrassment,” one blogger is quoted as having written. “Everyone knows that we are a conservative society and I call for action against those who are implicated in this embarrassment, including those who allowed her to speak on behalf of Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Arabia is widely criticised for a punitive and restrictive policy toward women's rights. It is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive.