From the earliest beginnings of its state-run education system in 1926 until this year, Saudi Arabia has forbidden photographs of women in all school textbooks. Only drawings have been permissible. Not anymore.
The first series of books including photos of actual women entered circulation in the deeply Islamic kingdom during the current academic year, Al Aribaya News reported Tuesday.
The new textbooks remain in an experimental phase. Final authorization allowing the books to go into full circulation — if it occurs — would take place sometime around the end of the academic year.
The women in the photos are veiled. In an English book intended for third-year high school students, a nurse is shown wearing a headscarf and a surgical mask. She is preparing to give someone an injection.
An exercise accompanying that photo invites students to discuss how the percentages of men and women may have changed in traditional occupations.
In another picture, a female stands in a laboratory. According to Al Aribaya, she wasn’t wearing a veil when the photograph was taken. The textbook makers altered the image to cover her face.
In past years, Saudi Arabia has come under fire in the Western press for the regressive and sometimes shocking content of its government-authorized schoolbooks.
For example, according to the Daily Mail, textbooks for the 2010-11 academic year instructed that homosexuals should be “put to death” and that Israel must be exterminated. They also showed, with helpful visual aids, how to properly cut off the hands and feet of thieves.
According to National Review, a recent version of another textbook read: “The Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians.”
Al Arabiya is a Saudi-owned television news channel based in the United Arab Emirates.