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Woman In Saudi Arabia Arrested For Wearing Skirt, Crop Top In Video

Updated at 11:50 a.m. ET on Wednesday

A woman in Saudi Arabia was arrested and questioned by authorities after a brief Snapchat video showed her wearing a skirt and crop top in the desert heat.

Her outfit would be unremarkable in the U.S., but it violated Saudi Arabia's strict, conservative dress code for women. The footage went viral online over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabian state TV announced via Twitter that the woman had been taken into custody by police and that the case had been referred to the general prosecutor. Authorities later said she was released on Tuesday night after "a few hours" of questioning. The woman said the video was published without her knowledge, according to the Saudi government.

No charges have been filed and the case is closed, according to a Wednesday press release from Saudi Arabia's Center for International Communications.

The Associated Press reports that the woman in the Snapchat video is shown walking around a "historic fort":

"The short video, shot in a village in the desert region of Najd, where many of Saudi Arabia's most conservative tribes and families are from, is followed by other shots of her sitting in the desert.

"The video sparked a Twitter hashtag that called for her arrest, with many saying she flagrantly disobeyed Saudi rules, which require all women living in the kingdom, including foreigners, to wear long, loose robes known as abayas in public. Most Saudi women also wear a headscarf and veil that covers the face."

Many of the responses on Twitter were critical. "Respect the laws," said user @1__shadow.

But others on social media pointed out that foreign women in Saudi Arabia often wear Western clothes without punishment.

In one particularly popular tweet, @50BM_ said that if the woman were a foreigner, she would be praised for her beauty — "But because she's Saudi, you call for her prosecution!"

Another tweet jokingly suggested that if Ivanka Trump, the U.S. president's daughter, had been wearing that outfit, all would be well.

"Saudi newspaper Okaz had reported Sunday that local officials had written a letter to the region's governor and police asking to take action against those who made the video. Saudi Arabia's religious police also released a statement on Twitter saying they were aware of the video and looking into the matter," The Washington Post reports.

Women in Saudi Arabia, which is a close U.S. ally, are restricted by a variety of severe laws and policies. Famously, they are banned from driving.

But the limitations on women extend far beyond mandatory abayas and the prohibition on steering wheels, as NPR's Bill Chappell noted earlier this year:

"The kingdom also requires all women to have a male guardian to handle basic legal transactions. In many cases, the role passes down from a woman's father to her husband or brother, but the guardian can sometimes be a woman's own son. ...

"Some of the requirements for male approval are written into law, for things such as getting a passport or going to college. But many are enforced by tradition, such as when businesses require a woman to get a man's approval to work or when a doctor says a man must say it is OK for a woman to get medical services."

A few members of the royal family have been advocates for modernizing some elements of the country's Islamic law. Women in Saudi Arabia voted and ran for office for the first time in 2015, and a growing number of women are entering the workforce. Last week, the AP notes, Saudi Arabia announced that girls in public school would be allowed to play sports and take physical education classes.

But, as NPR's Rachel Martin reported in late 2015, Saudi Arabia "is still a culture governed by men":

"If a girl has a father who wants her to go to school and get a job, then she can do it. If that father doesn't want that to happen, then it won't happen.

"And so many of the social restrictions we see on women here aren't necessarily codified in law. There are cultural norms, deeply held traditional mores that are far more entrenched and will, as a result, take much longer to change."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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