Women inside Saudi Arabia stand up to guardianship laws

WNN Breaking

Saudi women walking on street of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Saudi women walk in the street of Al Balad, Jeddah, in Makka, Saudi Arabia December 15, 2011. Image: Charles Fred

(WNN) Riyadh, SAUDI ARABIA: Criticism of the Saudia Arabian government and the Ministry of Interior is mounting among global women’s rights and human rights activists as an app for mobile tracking technology has been approved for use by the Parliament of Saudi Arabia to track women who may wish to travel.

To the disdain of numerous global advocates, the government has recently sanctioned the new technology that sends an alert to the husband, or male guardian, of any woman who attempts to leave the country. Last week mobile notifications began to appear on the phones of men who consider themselves to be ‘guardians’ of women who are traveling with or without their presence.

But the technology is not ‘perfect’ according to plan. Some husbands are being notified of their wives departure in Saudi’s international airport while their husband is sitting right next to them on the plane.

Male guardianship in the region has been an ongoing issue inside Saudi Arabia, said HRW – Human Rights Watch in a public statement made last August. “Under the Saudi system of male guardianship, the guardians – a woman’s husband, father, brother, or even minor son – have power over their female relatives of all ages, approving or declining their travel, work, marriages, official business, or health care, almost at will,” outlined HRW.

The issue for women under guardianship laws, that is part of the region’s set of Islamic Shariah laws addressing women, is not going away. The Laws have been contested inside and outside the country by activists who often face obstacles surrounding male ‘guardianship’.

“The guardianship rules are only part of a bigger system of subjugating women,” said woman journalist and activist Wajeha H. Al-Huwaider in an editorial opinion piece as far back as 2009 for The Washington Post. Wajeha, who’s simple act of videoing herself driving a car launched the ‘Honk for Saudi Women’ Youtube campaign last year. Because of her public stand on the issue she has often been the ‘poster child’ for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, especially in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia where she was born.

Guardianship laws for women in Saudia Arabia cover much more than travel, they also cover permissions for a woman to attend school or to go to work.

“Women’s access to education is affected by guardianship laws even though the government has moved to void some of them. Some universities require that women have their guardian’s approval before they are permitted to register for classes and then have permission for each individual class they choose to take,” outlined Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world.

Four weeks ago a women’s rights group based in Saudi Arabia, headed by Aliyah Banajah, sent a letter of petition to Minister of Labour Adel Fakieh to “annul the guardian’s powers which enable him to have a woman dismissed from her work.” They are hoping for an answer from the Office of the Ministry of Labour by November 29.


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