A win for women's rights: Saudi women can now travel without government supervision
Saudi women have applauded the decision taken by authorities to suspend the electronic system to notify male guardians about the departure and arrival of their female dependents.
They said the system should have been abrogated long ago, as “it is demeaning to women and restricts their freedom.”
“The system has been suspended due to some observations and it will undergo amendment,” said Lt. Col. Ahmad Al-Laheedan, spokesperson of the Passports Department in comments published on Monday. He indicated that the system could be reintroduced, adding new options.
“In the past, the system included all the names that were registered. However, in the next phase, it will be optional. The amendments seek to enhance the system to make it better and fulfill all its objectives,” Al-Laheedan said.
“The notification process should have never been introduced in the first place because it is humiliating for women,” said Sabria S. Jawhar, a Saudi columnist and assistant professor of applied linguistics at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences.
“Women like myself who may have open permission from their guardian to travel find the issue particularly ridiculous because our guardians are notified of our every move as if we are children that need to be tethered to become responsible adults,” Jawhar told Arab News. “We are responsible adults but are treated as immature or less responsible.”
Jawhar opposed the move to introduce the system with modifications. “I hope this is a step toward canceling the whole system. We are born Muslim and we know the principles of our religion. There is no need for anyone, including the government, to monitor our behavior,” she said.
Under the system adopted by the Passports Department, an SMS is sent to the male guardian to alert him whenever a female member of his family or a child crosses the Kingdom’s border.
Maha Akeel, managing editor of the OIC Journal, also welcomed the move, saying the system was a big insult to women. “All Saudi women travel abroad with the permission of their parents or husbands. The system gives the impression that women require constant monitoring. It also shows that women cannot be trusted,” she told Arab News.
Some Saudis, however, approved the system and considered it as a wise use of modern technology to help families keep track of the across-the-border movements of their womenfolk and young children.
They also hailed it as a positive step toward eliminating bureaucratic paperwork that required guardians to sign permission forms.
“Without such a system, a woman or a child would be free to come and go and travel abroad without her or his family knowing about it,” one Saudi blogger wrote. “If such is the case, we will find many of our women and children going abroad without our knowledge,” he said.
Suhair Adel rejected the system, saying it was humiliating for women. “This is total confusion,” she posted on Al-Sharq’s website. “What is the difference between men and women at this point? Should it be possible for my brother, who is 10 years my junior, to be informed about my cross-border movements while I know nothing about his whereabouts? There is obvious chaos in the application of the law,” she said.
Budoor Al-Saleh said that it was not acceptable to equate women and children. “Why are you pushing us in the same category as children? Men should, in this case, be also included in the scheme,” she said. Salwa, another blogger, said that since the aim of the notification system is to provide a good service for families, men should also be included to augment the advantages.
“I am sure that many problems would be solved if women were aware of their husbands’ cross-border movements as well,” Salwa said. “In fact, women would benefit from the system much more than men. So please include men and alert their wives about their international departures and arrivals,” she said.
A young man who identified himself as an overseas student said that the system had spoiled the surprise he and his sister had planned. “My sister and I are students abroad and one day, we wanted to surprise our family by arriving into Saudi Arabia without telling them,” he said. “However, the plan fell through after they were alerted via SMS that we had arrived in the Kingdom. We were truly disappointed.”