In Saudi Arabia, the list of things women are not allowed to do is a lengthy one, and includes driving, trying on clothes while shopping, and swimming in public. All of which makes Hwages, a new song and music video by Saudi Arabian artist Majed al-Esa, rather extraordinary.
The vibrant music video, which has racked up more than 3.2 million views since it was published online at the end of December, irreverently mocks Saudi Arabia’s strict moral and dress codes for women – and even manages to take a swipe at Donald Trump along the way.
While Al-Esa is male, the vocals on his clubby, buoyant track – the title of which translates loosely as “concerns” – are performed by women. Lyrics include the provocative “If only God would rid us of men” and “May men go extinct, they cause us to have mental illnesses”, a reference to a 2014 protest song in Saudi Arabia.
The three-minute music video is just as incendiary as the song itself. Women are shown joyously taking part in forbidden activities, from skateboarding to dancing in public and enjoying fairground rides, with their brightly-coloured casual clothes are clearly visible beneath their traditional black niqabs. It’s a big no-no in a country where women are banned from wearing “immodest” clothes that “show off their beauty”.
In an apparent comment on the infantilising nature of Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws and the ban against women drivers, the opening scene of the video depicts three Saudi women sitting in a car driven by a small boy.
The clip also features an appearance from Donald Trump – or at least, a rough approximation of him. About 80 seconds into the video a cardboard cut-out of the US President-elect rises ominously from behind a podium bearing the seal “House of Men”. In front of him, a crowd of supporters wave anti-Hillary Clinton and anti-women placards.
The question posed to America is fairly unambiguous: can you stand in moral judgement of other countries’ treatment of women, when you elected this man as president?
The arrival of Hwages on the internet came three months after Saudi women protested the country’s restrictive guardianship system. Under strict current laws, women cannot travel, marry or leave prison without the permission of a man (usually their father, husband or son). Male consent can also be required before a woman is able to take a job or receive healthcare.
A report by Human Rights Watch condemned the guardianship system this summer, sparking a petition signed by thousands of Saudi women and a hashtag: #IAmMyOwnGuardian.
Watch the video for Hwages below.