Earlier this week, we shared an awesome new video showing Saudi women having fun and breaking free of the patriarchal Saudi Arabian guardianship system, under which women require permission from a male relative to perform tasks such as travel, study, get married and recieve medical attention. A woman's "guardian" can be her father, husband, brother, or even (in the case of a widow) her son.
The fight for women's rights wages on in Saudi Arabia, with many putting themselves at risk by speaking out against the guardianship system. In September 2016, thousands signed a petition calling for an end to the oppressive system. An Arabic hashtag سعوديات_نطالب_باسقاط_الولايه# -- meaning “Saudi women want to abolish the guardianship system”-- and its English counterparts #IAmMyOwnGuardian and #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen went viral, and all three are still in use.
Last week an unnamed Saudi man was jailed for contributing to these calls, according to local news sources. The Saudi courts convicted him of "inciting to end guardianship of women," by putting up posters in mosques and posting on social media. You know things are pretty fucked when advocating for change is itself a crime.
The courts also claimed the man was behind the Twitter campaign, which really calls into question the agency and desires of the thousands of women who tweeted. Sigh.
Credit aside, this Saudi man is an ally in the truest sense. The man, who has been sentenced to one year in prision and fined 30,000 riyals (US$8,000), claimed to have launched the campaign when he realised that some of the women in his life were “facing injustice at the hands of their families.” Men have to be part of the solutions to counteract gender inequality at any level, and in a system in which women are treated as legal minors who can be legally beaten by their guardians under certain circumstances, this man’s work is especially important.
Longtime Saudi activist Aziza Al-Yousef understands the role men have to play and has long focused on making Saudi men more aware. “This is not only a women’s issue, this is also putting pressure on normal men,” she told The Guardian. It seems more and more men in the ultra-conservative kingdom are recognising the injustice of the guardianship system. Some Saudi women who spoke to the New York Times in October said the men in their lives give them the freedom to make their own choices: "I am one of the lucky women who had an amazing and enlightened father and wonderful brothers, who do not interfere in my choices and support me all the way." Yet the insulting system still requires these women have their guardian's official sign off for travel, study, or work, even if it is only symbolic. The quality of the lives of these luckier women still comes down to temperament of the men around them. And they still can't drive.
We salute this imprisoned activist for his brave efforts. He is paying a steep price for publically suggesting an end to a warped system so obviously inhumane that Human Rights Watch has condemned it, and which Saudi Arabia has already promised and failed to end.
But hey, at least when he gets out he won’t have to wait for a male relative to come and collect him: when female prisoners living under the guardianship system have served their time, they have to wait to be recieved by a male guardian, meaning those rejected by their families remain in jail beyond their sentences.
Image via Ms Saffaa instragram @mssaffaa
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