In response to the U.S. military’s reversal of its requirement that American servicewomen in Saudi Arabia wear abayas, black head-to-toe robes, while off-base, the Saudi Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a government office, announced that the women would not be allowed in public without the abaya regardless of their U.S. citizenship or religious opposition. Saudi officials called the change in U.S. policy an affront to Islamic law that challenged Saudi sovereignty. Officials were also displeased that the U.S. did not consult the Saudi government before changing the policy.
Despite the repeal of the requirement, however, some female military personnel have reported that commanders have ordered them to continuing wearing the abaya. Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, circulated an email among the U.S. military rescinding the abaya requirement, though he stated that wearing the abaya was still “strongly encouraged.” The State Department does not require female employees in Saudi Arabia to wear the restrictive veil, which allows only the eyes, hands, and feet to be seen, and actually encourages American women not to wear the abaya when on official business.
Lt. Col. Martha McSally has sued the Department of Defense for its discriminatory policies for troops in Saudi Arabia. Female service members are not allowed to leave base without a male companion, drive vehicles, or ride in the front seat. McSally contends that the policies are unconstitutional.