Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on a visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet the Crown Prince and other dignitaries in her first international visit since triggering Article 50.
She decided to greet the various officials without wearing a headscarf, and voiced her intention to meet with a female minister to talk about “the role that she plays” in the predominantly male environment.
It's important for me as a woman leader and as leader of the government of the United Kingdom to maintain the relationships that are important to us as a country, for our security, and our trade for the future.
But I hope also that people see me as a woman leader, will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions.
However, some people are urging the Prime Minister to use her trip to challenge the Saudi government on some of its most heinous human rights abuses.
1. Saudi Arabia’s military assault of Yemen
For the past two years, Saudi Arabia have led an air strikes on Yemen, in an attempt at overthrowing the Houthis, a militarised Shia movement they allege has been getting support from Iran.
However, there is increasing evidence that the continued assault on Yemen is driving the country to famine, with 17 million Yemenis displaced or starving.
Amnesty International found that Saudi-led airstrikes are killing and injuring thousands of civilians, and maintains that some attacks are “indiscriminate, disproportionate or directed against civilians and civilian objects including schools, hospitals, markets and mosques”.
With over £3 billion worth of military equipment having been licenced to the Saudi regime since the bombing began.
2. Curtailing freedoms of expression
Journalist Alaa Brinji is one of many to have been sentenced to five years prison, a fine of 30,000 riyals (£6,500) and an eight-year travel ban for comments he posted on Twitter.
In 2015 Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment following the creation of a secularist website Free Saudi Liberals. He was arrested for insulting Islam.
Human Rights Watchcalls Saudi Arabia’s consistent sentencing of “prominent reform advocates, activists, and writers to lengthy jail terms”…is a sustained assault on free expression”.
3. The concept of 'guardianship'
The country’s human rights record, especially as it pertains to women, is particularly abysmal.
A Human Rights Watch report on male guardianship, which is a Saudi law that states all women have a male guardian who gives them permission to study, travel abroad or marry, found “a woman's life is controlled by a man from birth until death”.
A Saudi man was jailed for a year and fined 30,000 riyals (£6,500) after “inciting to end guardianship of women”.