How Saudi Women Are Campaigning Against Male Guardianship

Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images.
More than 14,000 Saudi Arabian women have signed a petition urging their government to scrap the country's male guardianship system. Activist Aziza Al-Yousef handed the petition to the government and the women await a response, the BBC reported. The male guardianship system requires women to obtain consent from a man – their father, husband, brother, uncle or even their own son – before they travel, work, study, and undergo medical procedures. Saudi women also often require a man's permission when renting a flat or filing a legal claim. There is very little help available to women who are abused by their guardians or whose freedom is rigorously curtailed. A campaign against male guardianship has gained huge support in the conservative Islamic country in recent months. The movement began on social media in July, after Human Rights Watch published a report calling the system "the most significant impediment to realising women’s rights in the country". "In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death," the report added. The hashtag #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, which translates in Arabic as "Saudi women want to abolish the guardianship system", gained traction on Twitter, with women making videos and artwork and even wearing bracelets with the words "I Am My Own Guardian" to challenge the misogynistic law.
Some women who signed the petition gave their full names, although most did so anonymously, and up to 2,500 sent messages supporting the campaign to the Saudi King's office this weekend, reported the BBC. Kristine Beckerle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch told the BBC she was "flabbergasted" by the scale and creativity with which the women have made their voices heard. "They've made undeniably clear they won't stand to be treated as second-class citizens any longer, and it's high time their government listened," she added. Yousef, who delivered the petition and campaigned against the country's ban on women driving in 2013, said she wasn't worried about the potential negative consequences of having signed the petition because, she said: "I'm not doing anything wrong." Yousef is calling for women to be "treated like an adult" after they reach a certain age, such as between 18 and 21. She said: "In every aspect, the important issue is to treat a woman as a full citizen," the BBC reported. Predictably, there has been opposition to the human rights campaign, with people using an opposing hashtag, #TheGuardianshipIsForHerNotAgainstHer, to voice their support for the male guardianship system. Saudi journalists have also argued that while the system may need reform, it should be retained because it "is part of Islam".

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