German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen defied the traditional dress code for women in Saudi Arabia by forgoing the hijab – a headscarf worn my Muslim women.
She made the bold statement during her meeting the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in Riyadh.
Leyen, who is the first woman in the history of Germany to hold the high profile defense role, instead wore a suit with her hair visible.
The politician explained her decision to German tabloid Bild, saying she didn’t mean to disrespect local Saudi values. Instead, she only wanted to send a message that women should have the right to choose what to wear.
Of course, I respect the customs and customs of a country,” said Ms Leyen, as quoted in German tabloid Bild.
“I strive to comply with such rules. But for me there are limits to the way I adapt to the country,” she stated. “No woman in my delegation has to wear the abaya. Being able to choose your own clothes is a right for both men and women alike. It annoys me, when women travelling with women are pressured into wearing the abaya.”
Leyen’s visit and her message were timely, considering both came around the same time came around the same time Saudi police arrested a young woman, identified as Malak al-Shehri, who tweeted a picture of herself outdoors without the abaya and headscarf.
When the controversial image first surfaced, it prompted a lot of backlash from Saudi Twitter users. Some even reportedly called for the woman’s execution. One person even suggested to “kill her and throw her corpse to the dogs.”
And this kind of vile backlash is exactly why more women should keep defying the country’s tyranny over women. While for local Saudi women, defiance comes at a cost, as was seen in al-Sheri’s case, prominent public figures like Leyen could serve as much-needed inspiration.
Before the German official, the United States’ First Lady Michelle Obama also declined to wear a headscarf when she visited the Arab country last year.