Saudi Women Call For The End Of Male Guardianship

Hundreds of thousands are speaking out against the system, which Human Rights Watch calls 'the most significant impediment' to equality in the country

Women in Saudi Arabia are speaking up — (REUTERS)
Aug 04, 2016 at 11:38 AM ET

Saudi women still aren’t allowed to make most big decisions without getting permission from their male guardian. But this week, women in the country are speaking up, joining a massive social media campaign calling for the end of the guardianship system. So far, more than 170,000 tweets have been posted in English and Arabic.

The male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia “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,” wrote Human Rights Watch, in a July report.

Saudi adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or marry, and may even be required to provide guardian approval in order to work or access healthcare. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, usually a father or husband, but in some cases her brother or even her son, who has the authority to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf. A woman’s life in Saudi “is controlled by a man from birth until death,” the report says, adding that “the impact these restrictive policies have on a woman’s ability to pursue a career or make life decisions varies, but is largely dependent on the good will of her male guardian.”

In its report, Human Rights Watch also released a series of animated videos which were inspired by the stories of 61 women interviewed by HRW. One video shows a doctor receiving an invitation to a cardiac surgery conference in London, and texting her son for permission to travel abroad. Another video shows a woman who goes to a shelter after her husband hits her, only to be told that she must return home to him, after he signs a form promising not to abuse her again.

The Twitter campaign drew its inspiration from the HRW report—and it appears to be making an impact.

The English hashtag  was promoted by Human Rights Watch’s Twitter account, and reached its peak on July 18. But the English campaign inspired a larger response in Arabic. The hashtag  (which translates to ‘Saudi women demand the end of guardianship’) was created by users only two weeks later, reaching almost 140,000 tweets. Both hashtags are still trending inside Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi user who claims to be from Riyadh wrote using the Arabic hashtag that “I am not lacking a brain, so I won’t let a male who could be inferior to me at everything to be my guardian.” Another Twitter wrote that “I live in a country that I can’t go anywhere until my husband permits it. I’m dying here—all I do is eat and sleep.” A third uploaded a picture of graffiti of the hashtag in the Saudi capital, writing “I sprayed this on a wall in Riyadh, in my name and in the name of every Saudi woman fighting.”

I did it myself and sprayed on one of the walls of Riyadh. In my name and in the name of every Saudi fighter

One of the videos released by Human Rights Watch