Saudi petition seeks 'full' rights for women

The campaign grew from a Twitter hashtag in Arabic that started more than two months ago calling for an end to guardianship.
Saudi activist and campaigner Aziza Al Yousef, a retired university professor, is planning to mail a petition to the royal court that was signed by 14,700 people calling for an end to the guardianship system in the kingdom, which gives men control over the work, study, marriage and travel of female relatives. Fayez Nureldine / AFP
Saudi activist and campaigner Aziza Al Yousef, a retired university professor, is planning to mail a petition to the royal court that was signed by 14,700 people calling for an end to the guardianship system in the kingdom, which gives men control over the work, study, marriage and travel of female relatives. Fayez Nureldine / AFP

RIYADH // Thousands of Saudis have signed a petition urging an end to the guardianship system giving men control over their female relatives, activists said on 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 said 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.

Under the guardianship system a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother, must grant permission for a woman’s work, study, marriage and travel.

Saudi Arabia is also the only country where women are not allowed to drive.

Activists say female prisoners have to be received by the guardian upon their release. That means that some have to languish in jail beyond their sentences if the man does not want to accept them.

The campaign has evolved from 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” following a report by the Human Rights Watch, Ms Al 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.

Activists said that if they have open-minded male family members, getting their consent is not a problem — although the men still have to formally sign consent papers.

“It’s a government system” which only came into effect about 30 years ago, said Nassima Al Sadah, an activist in Eastern Province.

Activists claim that ending guardianship will make it easier for women to work at a time when the kingdom wants to boost female employment.

“We cannot do it with half of the society paralysed,” Ms Al Yousef said.

In April, deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the wide-ranging Vision 2030 plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy.

Under a national programme, which sets targets for implementing the vision, the proportion of women in the workforce should rise from 23 to 28 per cent by 2020.

The jobless rate for Saudi women rose slightly last year to 33.8 per cent, according to figures cited by the Jadwa Investment firm.

A slow expansion of women’s rights began under King Salman’s predecessor Abdullah, who named women to the Shura Council which advises the cabinet and announced that women would participate in municipal elections.

Last December, when women could vote and stand as candidates for the first time, at least 19 women were elected for the 2,106 contested council seats.

There are roughly 10 million women and girls in Saudi Arabia.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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