The irony of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia

Published October 9th, 2016 - 12:53 GMT
Hundreds of thousands are speaking out against the system, which Human Rights Watch calls 'the most significant impediment' to equality in the country. (AFP/File)
Hundreds of thousands are speaking out against the system, which Human Rights Watch calls 'the most significant impediment' to equality in the country. (AFP/File)

The issue of male guardianship laws in the Kingdom has been a hot topic of debate worldwide, including social media, and a concern for every household in the Kingdom. All women living in Saudi Arabia, regardless of age, profession or ethnicity need the permission of their mahram (male guardian) to travel outside the country. Many Saudi and expatriate women, who are not exempted from the rule, spoke to Saudi Gazette and believe certain circumstances and age groups should be exempted, especially in case of mothers and older dependents.

Most women expressed grief and many hoped for reasonable change. On the other hand, men who spoke to Saudi Gazette said it is their duty to make it easier for women while others agreed with the law in place.

The disappointment was mainly shared by women who are the sole breadwinners of their families, widows and a lot of young workingwomen.

"I am 50 years old. When my husband was alive I needed his permission. Now it's my 19-year-old son who is my mahram. I'm the one working and footing the bills. My son used to take my permission before he stepped out of the house and now I have to get his consent if I want to travel. Does no one see the irony in this?" Salwa Bashir said while speaking to Saudi Gazette.
Many women, who said it was difficult for them to get permission from their mahrams every time they wished to travel, believe the law gives men the chance to abuse their authority.

Saleh Ibrahim, a 56-year-old Saudi businessman, said it is the man's job to look after his family and be in control of them.

"If my daughter wants to travel tomorrow, who knows where she's going to go, what she may do and if it's safe or good. It's my responsibility to look after her till I die. I need to know where she's going regardless of how old she is. She needs my permission because I care about her safety," he said.

Farah Malaika, a 26-year-old Saudi student, said she has seen several cases of domestic abuse and repercussions of the law that has prevented Saudi women to take their own decisions. "We are not minors or animals. Nor are we slaves that we need our movement to be restricted and watched. I know so many women who have wanted to get out of the country due to severed ties at home but their mahrams don't let them. How do you think women feel?
Depressed and helpless, of course," she told Saudi Gazette.

"I feel like this power gives them a superiority complex. My father thinks he has the right to decline what he deems wrong and the funny thing is he does so because he can. I am 35 years old and a mother of two children. And my decision to travel is still not mine," said Asma Ibrahim, an Egyptian resident in Dhahran.

Waseem Obaid, a 30-year-old Saudi marketing manager said women should not have to ask for permission from anyone. "Plus it makes our lives easier! No paperwork, no arguments. My wife, mom and sisters go wherever they want just like my brothers and I do. They're not our kids or dependents; they have the right to make their own decisions," Obaid said.

"The law doesn't make sense. I know sometimes there's an emergency and women suffer as a result," he added.

"Why do I need my husband's permission to leave the country? Or my father's for that matter? Do they ask me?" said Samira Bayan, a 38-year-old Saudi.
A hashtag with the title "Saudi women demands nullification of male guardianship" went viral on Twitter recently. Many international news agencies picked up the story and are currently discussing the subject.
Reportedly a petition signed by nearly 15,000 Saudi women has been submitted to end the country's male guardianship system.

By Mariam Nihal

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