Saudi Men, Women Petition Kingdom To End to ‘Male Guardianship’ Law

Washington, D.C.

Women’s rights campaigners in Saudi Arabia have organized on social media to bring an end to the kingdom’s “male guardianship” system, which prohibits women from carrying out fundamental tasks without the a male relative’s permission.

Thousands of Saudis, including males, have signed an online petition urging the kingdom to abolish the guardianship system, which has been  notes the Guardian, adding:

Under Saudi law, women require the permission of a male guardian to travel, marry, or exit prison and it may be needed to be granted employment or access to healthcare.

A guardian is typically a woman’s father or her husband if she is married; a widow may have to seek permission from her son if she has no other men of age in her life.

CNN has interviewed various women involved in the online campaign to stop that system.

“We want women over 18 or 20 to be treated as adults, to be responsible for their own acts and allowed to make their own decisions,” Aziza Al-Yousef, a Saudi human rights activist who has been fighting to rescind the male guardianship law for decade, told CNN.

“Women should be treated as a full citizen,” she told the Guardian, adding, “This is not only a women’s issue, this is also putting pressure on normal men … this is not an issue for women only.”

Al-Yousef noted that many men signed the online petition.

She tried to submit the petition to the Royal Court in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, but “was turned away from the court and told to submit the petition by mail,” reveals CNN.

Meanwhile, the Sunni kingdom’s highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti, has referred to the social media campaign as a “crime targeting the Saudi and Muslim society,” adding that the guardianship system should remain in place.

Saudi Arabia is known for cracking down political dissidents, particularly women.

Samar Badawi , a prominent women’s rights who was awarded the “International Woman of Courage Award” in 2012 from then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was arrested by the Saudi government early this year, drawing the ire of the United States.

Activists posted instructions on social media Sunday on how to send a telegram to the king urging him to end male guardianship, notes CNN, adding that the activists indicated “some of those who called to submit a telegram…had trouble with the operators.”

“Some operators said it was illegal what the campaigners were doing, that it was forbidden by God,” Sahar Nasief, a Saudi activist, told CNN.

The effort to end male guardianship in Saudi Arabia intensified after Human Rights Watch reported in July that the system is “the most significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country.”

Kristine Beckerle, who worked on the report, told CNN that she is asking the Saudi government to “listen to the demands of its female population and let women travel, study and make a whole range of other life decisions without a male guardian’s say-so.”