UN rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday called on Gulf states to remove barriers that restrict women's rights to control their own lives and that prevent their participation in public life.
"Women in the region are still unable to fully enjoy their human rights," Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at a university near Jeddah.
"Discriminatory barriers continue to hamper women's right to shape their own lives and choices, and fully participate in public life and be part of public debates that influence the direction of a nation," she said.
"These barriers must be removed."
She also said the practice of requiring women to have a male guardian, enforced most commonly in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, should be "put to rest."
She said other Muslim states in the world have improved women's rights via "dynamic interpretations of Islamic traditions."
In those countries, governments and Islamic legal experts "demonstrated that far from being innovations, such legislation was compatible with Islamic jurisprudence and, indeed, stemmed from it."
Pillay spoke to a small audience at the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, on the first stop of a tour of the Gulf.