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Five things the Prime Minister won't be allowed to do in Saudi Arabia today because she happens to be a woman

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British Prime Minister Theresa May meets with King Salman bin Adbulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia Stefan Rousseau/Getty

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister Theresa May makes an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The House of Saud, which took over the Arabian peninsula in 1932 has strict laws and customs, several of which infringe on the freedom of women.

May, Britain's second female prime minister to visit Saudi Arabia, has said in advance of the trip that she will be there to 'prove what women can achieve'.

As if it needed proving, and that when presented with science and reason the theocratically governed absolute monarchy will call off the religious police from their public beatings of women and girls.

Speaking to reporters en route to Jordan on Monday, May said:

I hope that people see me as a woman leader, [and] will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions… I’ve talked to the Saudis on a number of occasions now and I raise issues of this sort. I think we have already seen some changes.

May last visited Saudi Arabia in March 2014 as Home Secretary.

She last met with the ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud in December, at the Gulf Cooperation Council held in Bahrain.

In addition to the restrictions placed on all visiting leaders (such as the ban on bringing alcohol into the country), here are five things that Theresa May can't do because of her XX chromosomes.

1. Drive a car

According to advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, women are outlawed from driving in Saudi Arabia.

The UK stopped all of their prime ministers from driving a car since 1939 for security reasons.

This didn't stop Mrs Thatcher from taking a Challenger 1 main battle tank (MBT) for a spin in 1986.

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If the current prime minister were so inclined, she could pose in one of the 57 Typhoon Fighter Jets that Britain sold to the Saudi Royal Air Force between 2009 and 2015, which has also been used to rain down British made BL-755 cluster bombs on Yemeni citizens.

2. Wear what she likes

Foreign travel advice from Her Majesty’s Government say:

Women should wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf.

To be fair, David Cameron and all of the male prime ministers were prohibited from wearing shorts.

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Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

 

In 2015, when first lady Michelle Obama visited the capital Riyadh with her husband president Obama, she appeared with her head uncovered, as did her predecessor Laura Bush on her visit in 2007. 

The oppression of women is waived by the Saudi government and presumably will also be extended to May.

Which is big of them considering the UK sold them 2,400 Paveway laser guided bombs between 2009 and 2015.

The other aspects of ‘conservative’ dress have been maintained by politicians such as German chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007 and 2010, and secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2012 and 2013.

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Picture: HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

 

3. Swim or exercise in a public

Not that we were expecting May to do the butterfly, but if she were so inclined, May and other women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to swim outside of women-only gyms and spas.

Which is a shame because she could have tested the water to air firing capacity of one of the 1000 Brimstone missiles the UK sold Saudi Arabia between 2009 and 2015.

Not really, they're air to surface missiles.

4. Enter public buildings through the same door as men

Multiple public buildings in Saudi Arabia have gender segregated entrances and exits. Whether May will be separated from her male aides is unclear.

5. Eat without the company of a man

According to a travel guide for women published in USA Today it’s not uncommon for unaccompanied women to be ignored or denied service in a restaurant. Women who eat alone in public are apprehended by the Mutawa.

Similarly, travelling in the company of a man who is not her husband or male relative is also policed by the Mutawwa, which poses difficulty for any of May's male colleagues.

What May does get to do: Leave

This would all be ridiculous if the consequences for women in Saudi Arabia weren’t so serious.

May has the luxury of departing on Wednesday, an option impossible for the women of Saudi Arabia who cannot leave their home or travel without the permission of their ‘guardian’.

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Picture: HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

 


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