Gender roles in Saudi society come from Sharia (Islamic law) and tribal culture. The Arabian peninsula is the ancestral home of patriarchal, nomadic tribes, in which purdah (separation of women and men) and namus (honor) are central.
All women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian. Women cannot vote or be elected to high political positions. It is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The World Economic Forum 2009 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries for gender parity. It was the only country to score a zero in the category of political empowerment. The report also noted that Saudi Arabia is one of the few Middle Eastern countries to improve from 2008, with small gains in economic opportunity.
There is evidence that many women in Saudi Arabia do not want radical change. Even many advocates of reform reject Western critics, for "failing to understand the uniqueness of Saudi society."  Journalist Maha Akeel is a frequent critic of her country's patriarchal customs. Nonetheless, she agrees that Westerners criticize what they do not understand. "Look, we are not asking for... women's rights according to Western values or lifestyles....We want things according to what Islam says. Look at our history, our role models.