Hundreds of Thousands Join Saudi Women-Led Campaign to End Male Guardianship in the Kingdom


This article originally appeared on Global Voices on September 4 (reprinted here according to terms of Creative Commons)

As part of the efforts to end the draconian laws against women in the Gulf state, Saudi women launched a campaign demanding an end to male guardianship for basic practices such as work, property ownership and travel. Using the hashtag #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship and its Arabic version #سعوديات_نطالب_باسقاط_الولاية (which translates to ‘Saudi women demand the end of guardianship’), hundreds of thousands of supporters worldwide took part in this campaign.

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The campaign was sponsored by Human Rights Watch and follows the release of its lengthy report entitled “Boxed In: Women and Saudi Arabia’s Male Guardianship System”. In it, the international human rights organization explains that:

“In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf. As dozens of Saudi women told Human Rights Watch, the male guardianship system is the most significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country, effectively rendering adult women legal minors who cannot make key decisions for themselves.”

The report included three short videos illustrating the effects of the system on women’s lives, as well as statements from Saudi women’s rights activists and citizens who find the law to be socially and economically crippling.

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As one Saudi activist and former school principal, 44-year-old Hayat, told Human Rights Watch on December 7, 2015:

“The guardianship system also impacts women’s ability to seek work inside Saudi Arabia and to pursue opportunities abroad that might advance their careers. Specifically, women may not apply for a passport without male guardian approval and require permission to travel outside the country. Women also cannot study abroad on a government scholarship without guardian approval and, while not always enforced, officially require a male relative to accompany them throughout the course of their studies.

It can mess with your head and the way you look at yourself. How do you respect yourself or how [can] your family respect you, if he is your legal guardian?”

Human Rights Watch also explained that the religious reasons supposedly justifying the male guardianship system have been repeatedly challenged:

“Saudi Arabia’s imposition of the guardianship system is grounded in the most restrictive interpretation of an ambiguous Quranic verse—an interpretation challenged by dozens of Saudi women, including professors and Islamic feminists, who spoke to Human Rights Watch. Religious scholars also challenge the interpretation, including a former Saudi judge who told Human Rights Watch that the country’s imposition of guardianship is not required by Sharia and the former head of the religious police, also a respected religious scholar, who said Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving is not mandated by Islamic law in 2013.”

This is why, among many reasons, the guardianship system is being challenged — on Twitter and elsewhere — by Saudi women and their supporters. According to Vocativ, as of August 4, 2016, at least 170,000 tweets have been posted in both Arabic and English.

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article)