Saudi Arabia's Unsolicited Monitoring of Women's Travels Sparks Outrage

4798When word started spreading last week that Saudi women -- already some of the most oppressed and restricted in the world -- were being monitored electronically as they left the country, activists were quick to express their outrage.

A fully veiled Saudi woman walks into a mall in Riyadh. Women's "guardians" are notified whenever one leaves the country.
"It's very shameful," said Manal Al-Sharif, who became an icon of female empowerment in 2011 after defying the conservative kingdom's driving ban and encouraging other Saudi women to do the same.

Al-Sharif was one of the first prominent Saudis to start tweeting about the electronic monitoring issue -- describing the shock experienced by a couple she knew after the husband received a text message alerting him his wife had left Saudi Arabia, even though they were traveling out of the country together.

What surprised and disturbed them most, Al-Sharif told CNN, was the fact that the husband had not registered with the Interior Ministry to begin receiving such notifications.

"It shows how women are still being treated as minors," added Al-Sharif. She went on to explain how, even though a notification system has actually been in place since 2010, before last week, a male guardian would have had to specifically request the service from the country's Interior Ministry before receiving such messages.

In recent years, much has been made of the fact that Saudi Arabia is the sole remaining country in which women still have not been given the right to drive. But restrictions experienced by Saudi females extend to far more than just getting behind the wheel. In the deeply conservative kingdom, a woman is not allowed to go to school, get a job, or even travel outside the country without first obtaining the permission of her male "guardian," or mahram.

In Saudi Arabia, every woman has a male guardian -- traditionally her father, husband or brother.

But the country's guardianship system doesn't just apply to women -- underage children, as well as foreign workers, also must be granted permission before being allowed outside the country's borders.

In the past few years, the country's Interior Ministry has been introducing "e-government" initiatives to simplify tracking of dependents with technology and to make it easier for guardians to allow their dependents to leave the country.

Source: CNN | Mohammed Jamjoom
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