First Published: 2012-11-22

 

‘Backwardness’ at its best: Saudi women tracked electronically

 

Saudi government is now monitoring women electronically by informing their male guardians about their cross-border movements.

 

Middle East Online

By Assaad Abboud - RIYADH

You are being tracked

Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.

Since last week, Saudi women's male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.

Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

"The authorities are using technology to monitor women," said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the "state of slavery under which women are held" in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the "yellow sheet" at the airport or border.

The move by the Saudi authorities was swiftly condemned on social network Twitter -- a rare bubble of freedom for millions in the kingdom -- with critics mocking the decision.

"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.

"If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I'm either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist," tweeted Hisham.

'Technology serving backwardness'

"This is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned," said Bishr, the columnist.

"It would have been better for the government to busy itself with finding a solution for women subjected to domestic violence" than track their movements into and out of the country.

Saudi Arabia applies a strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, and is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

In June 2011, female activists launched a campaign to defy the ban, with many arrested for doing so and forced to sign a pledge they will never drive again.

No law specifically forbids women in Saudi Arabia from driving, but the interior minister formally banned them after 47 women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars in November 1990.

Last year, King Abdullah -- a cautious reformer -- granted women the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections, a historic first for the country.

In January, the 89-year-old monarch appointed Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, a moderate, to head the notorious religious police commission, which enforces the kingdom's severe version of sharia law.

Following his appointment, Sheikh banned members of the commission from harassing Saudi women over their behaviour and attire, raising hopes a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the country.

But the kingdom's "religious establishment" is still to blame for the discrimination of women in Saudi Arabia, says liberal activist Suad Shemmari.

"Saudi women are treated as minors throughout their lives even if they hold high positions," said Shemmari, who believes "there can never be reform in the kingdom without changing the status of women and treating them" as equals to men.

But that seems a very long way off.

The kingdom enforces strict rules governing mixing between the sexes, while women are forced to wear a veil and a black cloak, or abaya, that covers them from head to toe except for their hands and faces.

The many restrictions on women have led to high rates of female unemployment, officially estimated at around 30 percent.

In October, local media published a justice ministry directive allowing all women lawyers who have a law degree and who have spent at least three years working in a lawyer's office to plead cases in court.

But the ruling, which was to take effect this month, has not been implemented.

 

Turkey mulls military action against jihadists on its doorsteps

Palestinians to UN: Israel occupation must end in 2016

Assad: Countries that backed terrorism can't defeat jihadists

Retired US general says Syria rebel training could 'take years'

Morocco basking in resurgence in foreign film productions

Settlements, Iran stir new discord between Netanyahu, Obama

Gazans turn war remains into art objects

Skeptical Netanyahu seeks Obama reassurances on Iran

Turkey pushes for long-term solution to ‘Islamic State’ crisis

Metamorphosis of Salim Benghalem: From weed-smoking clubber to US-wanted jihadist

Violence across Iraq kills at least 1,119 people in September

Bahrain court lifts travel ban on Maryam al-Khawaja

Israel, Palestinians agree on one thing: Futility of peace talks

Netanyahu to Ban Ki-moon: Probe into Gaza war ‘one-sided’!

Kurds battle to defend strategic border town in Syria

Iran Nobel laureate questions Tutu's silence on Dalai Lama visa row

Iraqi Kurds hope US-led air strikes can break stalemate

Libya militants vow to continue ‘military operations’

Argentine President charges US could kill her

IS jihadists close in on Turkish border

US troops to return to Mideast

Israel settlers forcefully occupy 25 homes in East Jerusalem

Gunmen wound Saudi policeman in Shiite village in Eastern Province

Erakat likens Netanyahu to leader of ‘Islamic State’

Voters to choose among 27 candidates in Tunisia presidential race

Iran offers military equipment to Lebanon army

Iran extends compulsory military service to 2 years

Frustration grows over Huthi occupation of Yemen capital

US-led air strikes pound ‘Islamic State’ near Syria border town

Britain plans action against extremism ‘in all its forms’

Vigilante groups terrorise Syria refugees in Lebanon

Kurd troops launch offensive on IS on three fronts

Balkans clamp down on jihadist recruitment

Syrian refugees try their luck in Latin America

Indian PM warns US to repeat Iraq 'mistake' in Afghanistan

Israel PM warns Iran poses gravest threat to world

Kuwait strips 18 nationals of citizenship

Ahead of Tunisia elections, Ghannouchi appeals for US support

Israel deploys extra forces as two faiths mark major holy days

Egypt, Libya plunge in good governance rating

Saudi Arabia breaks silence on Huthi occupation of Yemen capital

Air strikes fail to halt advance of IS jihadists in Syria

Rival Libya factions meet for reconciliation talks

Iran-P5+1 nuclear talks ‘to resume’ by mid-October

HRW criticises human rights rollback under Erdogan