Family matters in countries as diverse as Iran, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia are governed by religion-based personal status codes. Many of these laws treat women essentially as legal minors under the eternal guardianship of their male family members. Family decision-making is thought to be the exclusive domain of men, who enjoy by default the legal status of “head of household.” These notions are supported by family courts in the region that often reinforce the primacy of male decision-making power.
Saudi Arabia provides the most extreme example of limited mobility for women: In that country, women are not allowed to drive a car or ride a bicycle on public roads. The strict Islamic law in the country prohibits women from leaving the home without a man's permission, and if they do leave the home, they can't drive a car. Doing so would require removal of their veils, which is forbidden, and it could potentially bring them in contact with strange men, another forbidden practice. While Saudi Arabia is the only country that prohibits women from driving a car, other countries restrict women's overseas travels by limiting their access to passports, and even women in developed countries may complain of limited mobility. While these women may have the legal right to drive cars and ride planes, they may elect not to go out by themselves at night due to the threat of rape or attack. We'll discuss such violence against women on the next page of this article.