Saudi Women Petition to End Male Guardianship System

“In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death,” says Human Rights Watch in their report on Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system.

Many Saudi women have had enough and thousands have signed a petition demanding an end to the guardianship system, which effectively treats grown women as minors for their entire life.

In the past, the Saudi government has promised to end the system several times but hasn’t made any significant changes. Now, many women are tired of waiting and are protesting for their right to be recognized as fully capable human beings.

In Saudi Arabia, the law requires women to get permission from a male guardian to travel, get married, or be released from prison, and sometimes for employment and healthcare treatments. Sometimes a guardian is required to rent an apartment, and, while it’s often not enforced, officially women who study abroad on a government scholarship must be accompanied by a male guardian for the length of the term.

While it hasn’t yet received an official response, the petition included 14,682 signatures and gained support from women of all ages and backgrounds, according to Hala Aldosari, who wrote the petition and worked on the Human Rights Watch report. About 2,500 women also sent direct telegrams to the office of the Saudi King, begging him to end guardianship.

“The male guardianship system 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 HRW.

Not every Saudi woman sees the system as oppressive, and in practice the system works differently for everyone. Jasmine Bager, one of the first Saudi women to graduate from Columbia Journalism School, wrote for Time about her experiences with a male guardian.

“Not all of us are prisoners in our homes,” wrote Bager. “My Makkah-born father, who is also my guardian, has always been my biggest supporter…Not only did he encourage my sisters and me to be independent thinkers—he required it.”

Bager’s perspective is important because it’s one that’s not often heard. And she’s right; Not all Saudi women are the same. For her, the guardianship system doesn’t have a major impact because her guardian is understanding and supportive.

And yet, as encouraging as her father may be, Bager still requires his permission to make major life decisions and will until she marries, when her husband becomes her guardian. Even if her father always gives his permission for her to do what she wants, as an adult woman she shouldn’t need it.

These laws don’t need to change because of people like Bager, whose guardian is kind and encouraging and who doesn’t seem bothered by the system. Bager is the best-case scenario. They need to change for the women who aren’t in her shoes and do feel oppressed — those whose guardians won’t grant them permission for necessary things, holding them back in their careers or even keeping them in jail.

Women who are in abusive relationships often have difficulty getting the help they need because their abusers may also be their guardians. Although Saudi Arabia criminalized domestic abuse in 2013, the control of the guardianship system makes it hard for women to escape abuse.

The inequality in divorce proceedings also poses a threat to women escaping violence, as a guardian is required for all court proceedings and it’s difficult to transfer guardianship from one person to another.

While some progress has been made, it’s often not enough. Saudi women were granted the right to vote and run as candidates in municipal council elections, but barriers still exist that prevent women from fully participating.

In the 2015 elections, only 10 percent of voters were women, in part because of challenges women faced registering to vote. The guardianship system means that many of the documents which can be used to register are often unavailable to women. Registering stations were often far from women’s homes and difficult to access for women, who are still unable to legally drive.

“We are entrusted with raising the next generation but you can’t trust us with ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense,” Rania, a 34-year-old Saudi woman, told HRW.

Photo Credit: Tribes of the World

129 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven11 months ago

thanks.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

Great news! The Muslim religion is all about control & bondage. There is nothing peaceful about it, the name doesn't mean "peace" it means "submission"!

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Charmaine M.
Charmaine Mabout a year ago

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

With Wahhabi Islam- no chance.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer Habout a year ago

I would have thought there'd be alot more signatures. Good luck, ladies. LF F - here it's the same - women aren't respected but it is 10fold there.

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Tania N.
Tania Nabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

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Joanne p.
Joanne pabout a year ago

ty

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LF F
LF Fabout a year ago

But how long before these poor women can be out there alone and not be assaulted by men in this country. They simply don't respect females. So even though the rules MAY change, will their safety?

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Genevieve O.
Genevieve Oabout a year ago

I hope this petition sails through not because I am a woman but because when care turns to control, the essence of sense of security and individuality is stripped totally. Humans aren't robots programmed to do A B C, D. Humans live to discover, make mistakes and learn to become better.

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