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MIDEAST > Saudi Arabia implements electronic tracking system for women

RIYADH - Agence France-Presse

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In a picture taken November 19, 2012, a Saudi woman carries shopping bags as she leaves the Olaya mall in Riyadh. AFP photo

In a picture taken November 19, 2012, a Saudi woman carries shopping bags as she leaves the Olaya mall in Riyadh. AFP photo

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.

“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.

November/23/2012

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READER COMMENTS

Notice on comments

Rosalind Polat

11/24/2012 1:47:11 PM

How about an Arab Spring led by Women - if only

lara ulusoy

11/23/2012 9:56:58 PM

Red Tail, neither Mr Erdogan nor Mr Davutoglu are Saudis!Would any Saudi official be allowed to put a law against Turkish sickos who are raping cows, ducks and dogs?Or who are beating up women in many places in Turkey? You have to be fair in your criticism and base that on a hate-free kind of opinion.Besides, Arab states are a mild case compared to what is happening in Europe or other non-Arab countries where you see guns in pockets instead of candy,shooting people out of boredom!!Check it out!

mara mcglothin

11/23/2012 9:46:54 PM

I am sure this is for their "protection"! Talk about an inferiority complex. Men must be really worried to do something like this.

lara ulusoy

11/23/2012 9:33:06 PM

I wouldn't associate the way women are treated with religion at all! How many women in ‘Non-Moslem’ countries get beaten to death, abused mentally, strangled or cut into pieces by 'Non-Moslem’ serial killers?Yet those religions have nothing to do with that!?So to make it a fair argument, I really think religion is not the main issue here, unless you want it to be.It's the sick minded twisted attitudes of some men in some cultures that need a proper law to disciplin them irrelevant of countries.

american american

11/23/2012 6:14:16 PM

big difference nadiri. where i come from, no forces my sister or mother to become models,

B12

11/23/2012 6:13:27 PM

In addition, women should not keep waiting for "others" i.e. govts to put pressure to stop criminal activity. Its not about how you are treated by others, its about how you let yourself be treated by others. In order to educate and keep the equilibrium of power, each party has to respect the other. Looking for others to help never works as can be seen from the total oppression women have experienced in these countries for years and years! No one cares. Wake up and smell the coffee Ladies!!

illawarrior hill

11/23/2012 4:57:08 PM

Are men tracked in the same way? Why are women treated as chattels?

illawarrior hill

11/23/2012 4:55:10 PM

Regardless of religious beliefs, the basic concept of "karma" seems to prevail. "What comes around, goes around:".Any culture that suppresses women, deprives men of willing, eager, enthusiastic sexually responsive partners. Surely men would prefer a woman who actually wants /desires them, compared to a woman who had no choice, and was forced to be with them. What REAL man wants a woman who does not want to be with him???

Moiz Ali

11/23/2012 4:38:58 PM

The Europeans were in a similar situation some time ago; so it can not be Islam that is enslaving the women; because most Europeans were Christians. So it is the Man who is enslaving the Woman. The way beyond is that Muslim women will have to fight for equality. But, they should learn from the history also, do not go so far that you go "off the cliff". Even though the western women are "liberated", they are not happy, their conscious bites them!

B12

11/23/2012 4:18:39 PM

Saudi women have to take responsibilit forcefully with appropriate action. Unless women start to take full responsibility themselves as a COLLECTIVE (this is the only way to do it) the criminal activity will continue. The Saudi establishment has to be forced into submission to cease the war BY WOMEN themselves. Unless Saudi women get serious about this they will forever be slaves. Men would never allow themselves to be suppressed in this way. Sort the problem out !
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