Thousands of Saudis sign petition to end male guardianship
More than 14,500 Saudis signed an online petition, calling to abolish the system of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. The petition, a first of its kind, was delivered in person to the Saudi royal court, by leading women's rights advocate and activist Aziza Al-Yousef. Support for the online campaign grew rapidly after the twitter hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian went viral in July 2016.
What is Saudi Arabia's 'male guardianship system'?
Under Saudi Arabian law, every woman is governed by a male guardian, who provides permission for travel, marriage, and sometimes work and healthcare access. A guardian is usually the woman's father, husband, brother, or some male relative, sometimes son in case of a widow. Many workplaces and universities demand guardian's consent for female employees and students, though not legally required.
Reforms over the past years?
After calls by women's rights activists to end the guardianship system, Saudi Arabia's government agreed to do so once in 2009 and then in 2013, at the UN Human Rights Council. Saudi Arabia took steps to reform some aspects of guardianship system. This includes passing a legislation criminalizing domestic abuse, allowing women's participation in limited political space, not requiring guardian's permission to work, etc.
Reforms are limited and incomplete
Though the reforms are a step forward in the conservative Islamic country, they remain partial and incomplete, keeping the guardianship system largely intact. What is being demanded by the rights activists is to end the oppressive system completely.
HRW report on Saudi's male guardianship system
In July, the Human Rights Watch released a report titled "Boxed In : Women and Saudi Arabia's Male Guardianship System". The report found that women are treated inferior to men. It noted that the country's guardianship system "remains the most significant impediment to women's rights". It stated that the restrictions in the way of requiring guardian consent, treated adult women as "permanent legal minors".
Social media campaign in response to HRW report
In response to the HRW report, #IAmMyOwnGuardian started trending on social media, which spread awareness of the issue. Women of all ages tweeted to bring about a change in the guardianship system.