Not all offices or factories in Saudi Arabia are gender-segregated; it hasn’t been a legal requirement since 2005. But many employers continue to separate the sexes, to balance the conservative values of a majority-male workforce with the country’s apparent desire to get more women into work. As the physical barriers come down in other social settings, women-only workspaces are a symbol of both the future and the past; the question of whether they are a necessary step towards full female participation remains a murky one.
Reporters and foreign diplomats were barred from entering the courtroom and escorted from the building despite petitioning the authorities to attend the trial, which has drawn sharp criticism in the west. The Saudi Arabian public prosecutor’s office previously announced that the group undertook “coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom”.