RIYADH: Thousands of Saudis have signed a petition urging an end to the guardianship system giving men control over the work, study, marriage and travel of female relatives, activists said Tuesday. The petition calls for the kingdom’s women to be treated “as a full citizen, and decide an age where she will be an adult and will be responsible for her own acts”, said campaigner Aziza Al- Yousef of Riyadh.
The retired university professor told AFP that she tried unsuccessfully to deliver the petition with 14,700 names to the Royal Court on Monday. The activists will now send it by mail as requested. Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.
Under the guardianship system a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother, must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities. Activists say that even female prisoners have to be received by the guardian upon their release, meaning that some have to languish in jail beyond their sentences if the man does not want to accept them.
“We are suffering from this guardianship system,” said Nassima al-Sadah, an activist in Eastern Province. The campaign is an outgrowth of a Twitter hashtag in Arabic that started more than two months ago calling for an end to guardianship.
“This momentum got very high after the hashtag was created” and following a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Yousef said. “Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system remains the most significant impediment to women’s rights in the country despite limited reforms over the last decade,” the watchdog said.