Saudi Arabia is not exactly known as a female-friendly country. The Global Gender Gap Report 2012 ranks the kingdom on the bottom five (at number 131) in its index.
Yet a recent development has incited a fresh uproar in the twittersphere. According to various news outlets, male guardians are notified via text messaging if their female dependents cross the kingdom’s borders. An Agence France-Presse news report which was published on NDTV quoted the condemnations, which appeared on Twitter:
“Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!” read one post.
“Why don’t you cuff your women with tracking ankle bracelets too?” wrote Israa.
“Why don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?” joked another.
The electronic tracking system received much attention when a Saudi man who was traveling with his wife got a text message from immigration authorities informing him that she had flown out of Riyadh. The message would have come a bit too late if his wife really had any intention of leaving him but in addition to actually being with him, he had already signed a written consent form which allowed her to travel.
Apparently, the new tracking system was set in place after a Saudi woman escaped the country in July with the aid of Lebanese and Saudi men using fake travel permits which bore the forged signature of her father, the Digital Journal reports. Both men have been arrested.
However, Ahmed Al Omran of Riyadh Bureau clarifies that this “notification system has been in place for a couple of years now” and is not just targeted towards women. Male guardians receive these text messages if their dependents—underage sons, daughters, wife and other women under their custody, or foreign workers they have sponsored—leave or enter the country.
The government launched its new electronic services system Absher earlier this year, allowing Saudi residents to register on their website and issue electronic travel permits to their dependents without having to go to the passport office to sign the infamous “yellow slip.” Registration requires a user’s mobile number for authentication purposes and since the number gets stored in the system, this is probably the reason why male guardians are receiving these SMS notifications now, Ahmed Al Omran speculates. He says that if you wanted to opt out of the service, you can do so but that would mean physically going to the passport office to file the “yellow slip” instead of doing it online.
Despite the reforms initiated by King Abdullah—e.g. allowing women to work in lingerie shops and giving them the right to run and vote in future municipal elections—women’s rights advocates say that the kingdom still has a long way to go. The Agence France-Presse report quoted the words of Suad Shemmari who said that “Saudi women are treated as minors throughout their lives even if they hold high positions.” A liberal activist, Shemmari believes that unless women are treated as equals to men, “there can never be reform in the kingdom.”
Category: News In Review