Are women in Saudi Arabia really making progress towards becoming equal with men?

Saudi Arabias Digital Leash Tracks Women

Image: Screen cap al-arabiya.com / zawaj.com

Let’s review some of the latest events and see how women are doing in the Saudi Kingdom.

  • Earlier this year, King Abdullah declared that Saudi women will be allowed to vote and run for office in local elections… but not until 2015.
  • At the Summer Olympic Games in London, another break in the glass ceiling occurred as Wojdan Shaherkani represented the Saudis in the women’s Judo.

Those two facts might lead you to believe that the very conservative, Sharia-compliant Saudi Kingdom is on the verge of some serious social change.  And then you are reminded that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive. This past summer, the Interior Minister made it official. There is no formal law against women driving, just a ban, and no Saudi DMV will issue a license to a woman.

Saudi Arabias Digital Leash Tracks Women

Image: Screen capture saudiwomendriving.blogspot.com

One brave Saudi woman hopes to break the ban.  Manal al-Sherif founded a movement called “Saudi Women To Drive” (also called Women2Drive in some social media environments). Last month in Geneva, Switzerland, she drove to a UN conference on human rights and delivered her message:

“In my country, a man comes of age at 18, a woman never: she needs permission from a male guardian for every life choice, from studying abroad to looking for a job.”

The restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia go well beyond driving. As Sharif stated, every Saudi women needs written permission to do just about everything. Women are forbidden to leave the country without the written approval from their “male guardian.” Seriously. For a Saudi female to be allowed to leave the country, she must be signed out by a man, effectively treating an adult woman like a piece of property. Some have called this slavery.

And now comes word of a new method for limiting the movement of women in the Saudi Kingdom — a tracking app. Tech Crunch called it “A Digital Leash For Women.”  Blogger/Activist Pamela Geller referred to the action as “High Tech Sharia.”  There is also a report from Al Arabiya News headlined;

‘Where’s My Wife?’ Electronic SMS Tracker Notifies Saudi Husbands

The Al Arabiya story opened with a chilling statement:

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.

The news of a government-run program that alerts husbands to the movement of their wives brought the expected reaction from the Twitter

Saudi Arabias Digital Leash Tracks Women

Image: Twitter

Saudi Arabias Digital Leash Tracks Women

Image: Twitter

Saudi Arabias Digital Leash Tracks Women

Image: Twitter

The reason for the new tracking technology being implemented was not immediately apparent as the Saudi government has not made an official statement. However, some Saudis have speculated that the government was reacting to an incident that happened last summer when an adult female escaped the country without parental permission. With the assistance of her Lebanese employer, a 30-year-old Saudi woman fled the country, ending up in Sweden. Her statements to the press regarding how she managed to get out of the country also triggered some fairly extreme legal action.

The woman’s father filed a lawsuit against the two men for helping his daughter leave the country without his knowledge. The Lebanese man was reportedly jailed Monday in the city of Khobar on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia.

Women in Saudi Arabia have been promised the right to vote and run for political office, but that right is still over two years away. In the meantime, they are still battling for the right to be able to drive, and if they chose to do so, leave the country without needing a permission slip from a man.

H/T – UrbanInfidel on Twitter