Saudi women are trying to end the male guardianship system that has been prevalent for hundreds of years in the Islamic kingdom. After garnering strong support from the womenfolk, female activists formulated and submitted a petition to the Saudi government, urging it to abolish the archaic practice.
Claiming the male guardian system to be restrictive and morally demeaning, women in Saudi Arabia have been trying to get it abolished for quite a few years. However, only after they were accorded certain freedoms have the women truly begun to officially voice their concerns.
Saudi women have been trying to do away with several practices that are deemed oppressive or domineering to the female population in the Islamic kingdom, including the right to drive, swim in public swimming pools, compete freely in sports, or even try on clothes when shopping. Sadly, none of the attempts to get rid of the repressive practices have swayed the government or the rulers so far.
According to the guardianship system, women need formal permission or consent for almost all decisions that concern them. While women have to mandatorily seek permission from a male member of the family if they wish to travel abroad, even decisions pertaining to their careers and education require male consent.
As a deeply conservative nation, Saudi Arabia demands women must procure written consent from one of the adult male members of the family to secure a passport, marry, or leave the country. While women can obtain the permission from their brother, father or other male relative, if a woman is widowed, she may have to secure consent from her son. If that’s not all, a woman must ensure written permission to file any legal claim, rent a property, or even be treated at a hospital.
While there are no corroborated reports, male members are known to extort money and favors to give their consent. Some women may be forking out as much as half their incomes solely to retain their right to work. Meanwhile, educational institutes, and even a few companies, needlessly pressure women to provide a proof of consent to avoid any hassles in the future.
The appeal to end male guardianship was supported by the immense response it received on social media platforms. Unfortunately, though the appeal received more than 14,000 signatures from Saudi women, quite a few signed anonymously for fear of repercussions from the male members of their family. Surprisingly, the petition which gained momentum with the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian, was countered by another one that read “The Guardianship Is For Her Not Against Her”
Regardless of the general opposition, social activist Aziza Al-Yousef bravely marched up the administrative building to hand-deliver the petition, only to be told she has to mail the same. In its current iteration, the appeal requests the king to consider all the females over the age of 18 or 20 as adults. The females should be allowed to be responsible for their own acts and allowed to make their own decisions.
Saudi Arabia is undeniably one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations. Essentially, the women in the kingdom are considered legal minors and treated as such. Close male relatives often make all the important decisions, as they have been granted broad rights over the life of a Saudi woman.
However, the Islamic kingdom is slowly showing signs of change due to external influence and internal willingness to consider the voices of women. The government is still to officially consider the petition to abolish the male guardianship system. Given the rather subdued response and contradictory views from the female population itself, do you think the centuries-old system will be booted?
Incidentally, this movement was not supported by prominent Saudi clerics. Quite a few had voiced their support for the 2013 movement that sought the right to drive for the womenfolk of the nation.
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