Saudi Women Deliver Petition to End Male Guardianship Laws

A petition demanding the end of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia was delivered to the Kingdom’s Shura Council (a formal advisory body). The petition also calls for changes in Saudi’s family law with regards to custody of children and the right of divorce. In addition, the petition demands an end to the Kingdom’s ban on women driving.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to hold a driver’s license. Also under Saudi law, all women and girls must have a male guardian. In most cases, women in the Kingdom are forbidden from travelling, doing business, marrying, divorcing, opening a bank account  – even undergoing certain medical procedures – without the permission of their guardian.

A woman’s guardian can be her father, brother, husband – even her son.

The petition, which was sent to coincide with International Women’s Day (March 8), was rejected by the male-dominated Shura Council. The council is appointed by the king and advises him on policy, however, it has no legislative power itself.

Activist and business woman Khuloud Saleh Alfahad, who supports the petition, said, "I don't have any identity here in Saudi Arabia. Every woman, even the most conservative, would be happy to see an end to male guardianship.”

 "I want to feel like I am a Saudi citizen, now I just feel like I am a follower of a man," she added.

Alfahad called the guardianship law “legal violence.” Far from protecting women, as proponents claim, Alfahad contends, "It's to put a woman in a jail so she cannot do anything without a man."

"This is a violence that doesn't come from my family or the society, it comes from our laws here against women," she said.

Aziza El-Yousef, one of the authors of the petition, explained, "Saudi women cannot get their own official documents such as their passports or birth certificate for their children. They cannot travel without the authorization of a male guardian, cannot go to work or school without a male approval."

Last month, controversy erupted after a female student died of a heart attack in Riyadh's King Saud University. The local paper Okaz reported that the university took an hour to allow male paramedics to enter the building due to the university's strict rules against allowing men on the female-only campus.

Yousef also mentioned another recent incident in which a pregnant university student was forced to give birth on campus by herself after entry was denied to paramedics.