A New Digital Leash for Women Keeps Them From Crossing Borders and Escaping

As a 16 year old who just got her driver’s license, I’ve been hearing about phone apps that text anxious parents with their kids’ whereabouts. Most of my friends consider this kind of system a drag, and probably enough to curb any Jack Kerouac-like plans to hit the road. But a new development in Saudi Arabia puts any such Western teenage grumbling to shame: the Saudi government has introduced an electronic tracking system that alerts male guardians when a woman strays too far from home.

The “wife tracker” or “digital leash” as some refer to it, reduces women to the legal status of a minor, and is just the latest restriction on the movement of women — and of the women’s movement — in a culture ruled by harsh sharia law.

As I reflect on a remarkable year of political uprisings and grassroots movements across the globe, I can’t help but think about the troubling status quo for women and girls who still struggle for basic freedoms.

In Saudi Arabia, women and girls can’t currently vote, date, marry for love, use contraceptives, ride bicycles, talk to men on the phone, sing or dance in public. Unless chaperoned by a mahram (male guardian), girls — covered in black abayas — are carted around behind tinted windows to special women-only gyms, boutiques, malls, schools, and restaurants (where they eat in the “family section,” apart from single men). The Mutawwa’in, the religious police, fine or even imprison dissenters. Victims of domestic violence and rape are often punished with lashes. Isolation is so intense that some feel that society is split between “two different species.”

Just below the surface, desperation percolates. A study at King Saud University reported that out of 100 suicide cases, 96 involved women—many women, wrestling with restrictions on work, travel, and school, attempt suicide to escape Saudi Arabia’s strict society. The Saudi authorities actually instituted the SMS tracking system when one Saudi woman tried to flee to Sweden — the kind of escape most Western women take for granted. Male guardians monitor the women in their custody — wives, daughters, sisters — for any attempts to cross the border. They receive a text message alerting them of their female’s activity.

Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia did not even make The Daily Beast’s top 10 list of the worst places to be a woman. It was surpassed by Chad, where women are married off at age 11 without legal rights, by Afghanistan, where 90% of women are illiterate, by Yemen, where domestic violence is perfectly legal, and by Congo, where 1,100 women are raped every day.

Although the statistics are grim, there may be glimmers of hope in stories like that of Malala Yousafzai, who at just 11 years old braved Taliban threats to blog about the constraints on girls’ education in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Her courage almost cost Malala her life when Taliban militants pulled her out of her school bus, and shot her in the head. Since her recovery, Malala has become a symbol for women’s education and rights across the globe. “Where in the Quran does it say that girls should not be educated?” Malala writes. “I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”

In backward societies where girls never graduate from their minor status, Malala shows that speaking up can be a powerful way to move forward.

Saudi Portrait: Edward Musiak


Smith M.
Smith M.3 years ago

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Sheena M.3 years ago

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Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

Sarah K sounds like a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Sherry Burt
Sherry Burt4 years ago

Women do not need leashes..... what next??

janet T.
janet t6 years ago

The more things change the more they stay the same!!!

Naomi A.
Naomi A6 years ago

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Which is scary enough.
But look at some of the laws being passed about women now in the USA. We see the stories here on Care 2 often about other anti women style happenings going on round our 'first world countries'. We are no where near as bad as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Pakistan and a few other countries thank the earth.
But we still need to keep an eye on our own countries, dont we.

Sandra K.
Sandra T6 years ago

Shell S: you seem to be unable to comprehend the FACT that it is ISLAM that has brought about this living hell for women in Islamic families & Islamic countries. I myself have been in an abusive relationship with a Muslim husband in an Islamic country. It is a far different situation than being in an abusive relationship with a non Muslim man in a Western country. You have absolutely no idea what you're blathering about.

Sarah: you're an extremely shallow, self-centered idiot in thinking that you're somehow above 'illiterate' Muslim women & men. Not to mention the fact that you think being held hostage by your male relatives paying you off with material luxuries is a positive thing. You are no better than a common prostitute, although you believe yourself to be a 'princess'. Absolutely laughable. I'm so glad to be ex-Muslim, now married to an incredibly kind, ex-Muslim man who could not go along with the Islamic garbage he was force fed as an innocent child. Especially being taught that he would one day be the owner of his wife. That, & Muslims extreme hatred/torture/slaughter of dogs, is what pushed him to leave Islam.

Elizabeth Sowers
Liz Sowers6 years ago

It's so difficult to imagine that so many MILLIONS of girls and women have no say at all and are treated so cruelly in many areas. "Half the Sky" is a moving, informative book and now documentary much of this.

Ewelina Grobelna
Ewelina Grobelna6 years ago

this is beyond ridiculous....thats not culture!!! thats opression !!!

Virginia B.
Virginia B6 years ago

Readers might be interested to know about a certain type of baboon, which can be found in the semi-desert areas from whence sprang the Moslem religion. They are distinct in the fact that the alpha male, when he senses that one of his females is nearing estrous, clamps onto her wrist and drags her around with him, everywhere he goes, until she can conceive.
Ever since I viewed that film, I immediately saw parallels between how this species of apes treats their females and how muslim men, who treat their women in a similarly restrictive, possessive manner. Might the humans in these area have drawn inspiration from their lesser relatives??