In a high-profile campaign, Saudi Arabian women are demanding an end to the country’s male guardianship system.
A petition signed by more than 14,000 Saudi women demanding the end to male guardianship was delivered in person by Aziza al-Yousef, a prominent female activist, to the Royal Court. The Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz’s office was flooded with thousands of telegrams—by some reports, as many as 2,500—at the end of last month. “The message is: women have to be full citizens, like men,” said Yousef.
Under the current system, women in Saudi Arabia must have the consent of a male guardian to marry or travel abroad. Owning property, filing a legal claim, or even receiving hospital care may also require a male guardian’s permission. Many places of employment and universities require a guardian’s consent before employing a woman, though this practice is not legally required by the government.
The guardian is typically a husband, father, brother or other male relative. In the case of a widow, the guardian may be the woman’s son.
Women have very little recourse if their guardians abuse them or limit their freedom. “Women here are trapped, they can’t do anything,” one woman said on the condition of anonymity. “It depends on your guardian. If he is OK, and if he is a good man, he’ll let you work, or let you study, which is a basic right. If he’s not, he’s going to prevent you from that.”
Saudi Arabia has been under pressure from the United Nations Human Rights Council to abolish the guardianship system for years. In 2009 and 2013, the Saudi government agreed to get rid of it—yet only limited reforms followed. In April 2016, the government announced