Women in Saudi Arabia are terribly oppressed – they cannot vote, drive, or work in many places. To even leave the country, they need to produce written permission from their male guardian (their father, brother, or husband), even if the woman is going out of the country with the male guardian. Saudi Arabia has taken this extremely misogynistic view to a new level though – male guardians will now receive a text message alert when “their” woman is leaving the country. Even more disgusting is that these texts – sent from the Interior Ministry as part of its tracking system – are being sent to all male guardians; including those who opted out of this program. While this program has been in place since 2010, until recently, guardians had to specifically request the notifications in order to receive them.
Manal Al-Sharif and her husband were “shocked” when they were leaving Saudi Arabia together, when all of a sudden her husband received a text letting him know his wife was leaving the country. Al-Sharif’s husband had not requested from the Interior Ministry this information, alarming the two even more.
This alert program is not just for women though – it is also used for those who women are most aptly compared to in Saudi Arabia- these alerts are also used for children, and children also have guardians.
Saudi writer and blogger Eman Al Nafjan posits the question:
“Why is [the guardianship system] being technologically implemented and being updated?… Why is it not being phased out? That’s the real question.”
In 2012, is the fact that Saudi Arabia is finding new ways to infantilize women a sign that it has no intention of giving women the rights and freedoms they deserve? Is the GPS alert an indication that Saudi Arabia intends to restrict women’s rights further in the years to come? What should be done to push Saudi Arabia into the modern era and end its misogynistic treatment of women?
While I personally do not agree with this kind of treatment of women, one must remember that Saudi Arabia is a much different place from the western world in which we live. Saudi Arabia operates under the principles of Islam as they have come to interpret them. As shocking as they are to us, if that is the way the Saudi Arabian people wish to live, perhaps that choice should be respected. I find it totally foreign to anything I have learned or believe in to treat women in such a manner, but then again I am not from Saudi Arabia. I would like to think that if the majority of Saudi Arabians did not support these controversial policies, they would not be in place. I hope that public opinion in Saudi Arabia does turn and that Saudi Arabian women can gain an equal place to men.
I think the problem is trying to “push Saudi Arabia into the modern era…” I am not saying, or even suggesting, that how the women are treated is fair or just, but forcing people to conform to what you view as fair and just is pretty unfair and unjust itself. Because these practices stem from a religious believe it is even harder to see how forcing them to follow a more Western philosophy on the treatment of women will work.
I think what we should do is offer help and protection to Saudi Arabians who want to change their culture from within. Giving asylum to Saudi Arabians who want to bring about change I think is a more effective strategy because the only way I see change happening is from within the country itself. There has to be enough religious leaders and citizens to say these practices are not inline with the teachings of Islam. But until such a time I think all we can do is help those who do not want to be a part of that culture find a life in another country.
I do think the GPS tracking system and text alerts implemented by the Interior Ministry is a sign that Saudi Arabia has no intention of letting up on its oppression of women. This tracking system is despicable and absolutely backward, especially for such a technologically advanced and wealthy nation as Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the social evolution of a nation is not a prerequisite for wealth and power. It almost seems to me like Saudi Arabia is trying to push the boundaries for institutionalizing the oppression of women. One step that the international community should take to pressure Saudi Arabia to ease up on its oppression of women is divestment. If countries around the world made Saudi Arabia a country of last resort from which to purchase oil (maybe after Iran), it might put enough economic pressure on them to give in to the international community’s demands.
I agree with Louis. I, too, completely disagree with the way Saudi Arabian women are viewed and treated in their society, but we have to remember that Saudi Arabia is a country with vastly different beliefs than our own. Although many of those views may be difficult for us to understand, I believe we have to respect their culture and not try to force our own upon them. Even if the western world wanted to impose our morals on to Saudi society, how could we do it? I have no idea. Moreover, I believe a foreign push to change Saudi law would not be nearly as effective as if the Saudi people themselves protested against the government’s action. That’s the one thing that gets me most about this article; the text messaging seems to be entirely driven by the government. Even families who do not wish to be a part of the program are still being involved.
I think Zack hits the nail right on the head. Ultimately, gender equality is not a western idea; it is a good idea, and one that every developed first world society comes to on their own. When dealing with nations like Saudi Arabia, with beliefs so drastically different than ours, it’s important to think practically. On one hand, embracing cultural relativism and agreeing that women can be treated this way because Saudi’s have a right to their own beliefs is not the right path. On the other hand, telling a nation what to do and what to believe is equally wrong. But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done to combat gender inequality. Funding political activism and education in nations can help them grow into first world nations with strong middle classes. Only once a nation has developed and stabilized will its inhabitants begin demanding political and human rights. Pushing an idea is worthless, unless it comes in the appropriate context. But by aiding nations such as Saudi Arabia to develop strong middle classes, they will come to liberalize themselves in due time, and those changes will be much more meaningful.
Saying that this is the way Saudi people “wish” to live is really saying that this is the way the ruling class of Saudi men wish women to live. Women’s wishes have nothing to do with it. Women’s wishes shes are not solicited and women have no legal power, so how can you know WHAT the women want?? In recent years groups of Saudi women have sought to defy their country’s ultra-segregationist laws, initiating and carrying out the famous “driving defiance” actions in which women risked much to openly drive in public as a protest. These women and their families were later made to pay a heavy price for their defiance. As in all cases of severe oppression, the oppressed are kept in place by a system of punishments which have nothing to do with their “wants” and which are necessary precisely because the oppressed do NOT want to be so restricted. Your point is as ridiculous as if you’d said that the enslaved people of the American South were part of a “different” kind of society and obviously were content (as a matter of fact, that is exactly what WAS said in the South to rationalize the situation). Same thing with Apartheid in South Africa. People want to be free. That includes women!
I agree 100% with Fran, the women of Saudi Arabia do not wish to live under the circumstances that they find themselves in. However, we cannot transpose our values and privileges that we are lucky to have in the U.S. on other countries, especially in the Middle East. While our ideas and freedoms are broadcast over various mediums, we cannot impose our values on others simply because we do not have the power. The best tools that we can use is our ability to educate and inform others and hope that they will create the change on their own. We have already seen the rise of western culture in the Middle East with the advent of facebook and the spread of ideas over the Internet, allowing citizens in those countries to seek change on their own. Text message alerts that constrict the liberties of women are absurd and demeaning in my opinion, however my opinion will hold little weight in Saudi Arabia and it is up to people like Manal Al-Sharif and her husband to seek the change. It may take decades or even centuries, but equality for women is a cause that is worth the struggle.
I am sorry.. I am Muslim and this is not Islamic practice. 98% of Muslims do not really follow the Quran but follow man made fabrication books called Sunna and Hadith. If one reads the Quran in Arabic, it clearly states men and women are equals. Only thing God says in surat al-nisa is men are women’s protectors and guardians. if you understand Arabic you will know the meaning. It means it is the husbands responsibility to care for the women financially, also to protect her from any harm. I thank God only follow the Quran. They use Gods words to twists them to accommodate their deviant ways.