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14,000 Saudi women call on government to end male guardianship in ultra-conservative kingdom

A Saudi woman has delivered a petition to the government calling for an end to the Gulf kingdom’s male guardianship system. The petition has been signed by more than 14,000 Saudi women.

Women face severe restrictions in the ultra-conservative nation where – despite being adults – they must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad, marry and even be released from prison. They can also be required to provide approval to work and or access health care, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

On Sunday (25 September), people sent telegrams to King Salman to abolish the male guardianship system – something which Saudi Arabia pledged to do in 2009 and 2013.

The telegrams were the latest step in the wider fight to end men having the final say in important decisions for females. In July, a hashtag which translated as “Saudi women want to abolish the guardianship system” went viral in the Islamic kingdom and women shared comments, pictures, videos and artwork with the hashtag “I am my own guardian”.

The petition was delivered by a leading women’s rights advocate, Aziza al-Yousef. “The message is: women have to be full citizens, like men,” the retired professor of computer science at Riyadh’s King Saud University was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). “I am very hopeful.”

While she felt an immense sense of pride, al-Yousef said the issue now needs to be addressed. A report by HRW in July said that “a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death”.

While fathers and husbands are usually male guardians, sons can also assume the role of making critical decisions for an adult woman. An unnamed 62-year-old Saudi woman described having her son as her guardian as “humiliating”.

The report’s author and primary researcher, Kristine Beckerle told IBTimes UK: “For 80 days, Saudi women have lead an incredible, unprecedented campaign, using petitions, bracelets, artwork, tweets to send a very clear message: Male guardianship must end. It’s long-past time the government listened to its female citizens and abolish what remains the most significant impediment to their rights in Saudi Arabia today”

Beckerle praised the creativity of Saudi women and said it’s “high time” the government listened to its citizens’ demands.

Despite the calls to end the system, there has been some opposition to the proposal, with some arguing that it should be reformed rather than scrapped all together. “Make no mistake, women in Saudi Arabia are not given all the rights they are entitled to in Islam and the male guardianship rules are in dire need of reform,” Sabria Jawhar writes in Arab News.

But, she argues, the family dynamic is a key component in the guardianship debate. “Each Saudi family is different and handles the guardianship issue differently,” says Jawhar.

“An abusive, rigid, control-freak of a father is going to be an abusive, rigid, control-freak of a guardian. A father that genuinely loves his daughter and wants the best the world has to offer her will not stand in her way and will make male guardianship for her, not against her.”

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