Making the rounds through the interwebs is this story about a flight attendant, Lisa Ashton, who has been fired from her job at BMI for refusing to wear an abeya and walk behind her male co-workers which is also known as going to Saudi Arabia. Heh. Welcome to my world.
Ms. Ashton "was told that in public areas in Saudi Arabia she was required to wear a black robe... an abaya... She was told to follow her male colleagues, irrespective of rank." The flight attendant "was worried about security in the country, refused to fly there, claiming the instructions were discriminatory." Oh yeah, they were. She said, "It's not the law that you have to walk behind men in Saudi Arabia, or that you have to wear an abaya, and I'm not going to be treated like a second-class citizen." Good for you, Ms. Ashton.
Let me set the record straight for you: You do not have to walk behind men, here. I don't know when that rule applied [the dark ages? oh, wait...] or when it was changed, but that is not required. The abeya, on the other hand, while not "required" is required. You don't want to leave your home without one. Unless you are looking for a run-in with the local religious police. If that is the case, then by all means, go out sans an abeya. You are sure to create a bit of a stir. You can, however, be fairly certain that they won't whip your ankles with their sticks. That - the punishment of having your ankles whipped - for the most part, is meted out only to Arab women.
Last week - a former neighbor of ours - she lived next to us when we lived in the townhouse - went to Rashid Mall where she was admonished by a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, known as the Religious Police, for not covering her hair. Terry stuck up for herself and brazenly told the man that she was a Western woman and that she was not required to cover her hair and walked away from him. Seconds later she witnessed a Saudi woman get her ankles whacked for not covering her hair. They're out there in full force, these men, protecting the masses from having to see a woman's hair. I know. It sounds ridiculous. But such is life, here, in The Sandbox.
Back to the abeya. Umm. Yeah. It is not required, but it is. "Saudi experts and companies that recruit women to work in the country say it is a 'myth' that western women are required to walk behind men. There is no requirement for them to wear the abaya in public..." Oh, really? Then why was I chased through Rashid Mall for not wearing one? I was dressed conservatively - jeans, tee-shirt, long blue "work" shirt over everything which covered me, and gave me the same shape as SpongBob SquarePants. There may be no law that says Western women have to wear one - but most of us do.
The garment does have its advantages. You can go out dressed in bike shorts and a tank top, or your underwear if you want, and no one will know that you're not dressed, unless of course, you are standing in front of a light or in the sun - and then someone could maybe see that you're not dressed. There are abeyas that are fairly light-weight cotton - mine is - but many of them are heavy polyester and you cannot see through that fabric.
Imagine if this matter were reversed. If BMI fired a Muslim woman for not taking off her head-scarf... A lawsuit would ensue immediately. And BMI would have to pay that woman a gazillion dollars. The reverse, though? Nope. Lisa Ashton lost the battle. Ms. Ashton has gone on to bigger and better things. She is a singer in the band, Looby.