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Sunday, December 30, 2012

E-Tracking Saudi Women

By Deborah Weiss
FrontPage Magazine
December 21, 2012

Saudi men are now receiving automatic text messages from the government whenever their wives exit the country. It is part of a new program to electronically track women and ensure that they don’t leave the country without permission from their male “guardians”. The response from liberal feminists in the West? Silence.
Saudi Arabia constitutes one of the most oppressive regimes in modern day history. It is known for its notorious human rights violations such as public beheadings, its extreme persecution of religious minorities, and its policies of gender apartheid, all of which are based on its stringent interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.

Already, the law requires that women be covered from head to toe in burkas when in public, that unrelated men and women cannot mingle, and that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. In divorce, child custody goes automatically to the man. Inheritance laws favor sons over daughters. The list goes on and on. In short, women are treated as little more than chattel.

But this isn’t enough for the Saudi government. So, recently, it implemented a practice whereby a male “guardian” is notified with a text message every time his wife or daughter leaves the country.

It has always been the case in Saudi Arabia that women, all of whom are referred to as “dependents”, (along with children and foreign workers employed by individuals), must obtain written permission from a male relative or other male guardian before being able to work, attend university, obtain necessary medical procedures or leave the country.

In 2010, the Ministry of the Interior implemented several initiatives to “update” the “efficiency” of the guardianship program, making it easier for guardians to authorize a dependent’s departure by, for example, allowing men to fill out permission forms online rather than producing the paperwork in person.

Additionally, men had the choice of opting into a program whereby they would be notified whenever their “dependents” crossed the country’s borders.

But in recent weeks, this notification program has been changed to automatically send text messages to men even when they did not sign up for the program. Thus, all male guardians in Saudi Arabia now receive a text message when their wives or daughters cross the border, even if he happens to be travelling alongside her.

The change in policy was prompted by an incident where a 28-year-old woman used falsified documents to escape Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, she had converted from Islam to Christianity, a capital offense under Sharia law. She fled to Sweden, presumably to evade punishment. Subsequently, the Saudi government made SMS notification official policy rather than elective.

One husband, who had been notified of his wife’s border crossing as he accompanied her, was alarmed by the notification. He alerted al-Sharif, a women’s rights activist, of the new policy.

Al-Sharif became famous, or infamous, depending on one’s viewpoint, when she uploaded a YouTube video of herself defying the government’s prohibition on women’s driving. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Last year, numerous Saudi women, who defied this ban, including Al-Sharif, were arrested and jailed. Al-Sharif was subsequently released on bail, so long as she promised not to drive again or speak to the media.

Upon learning about the government’s e-tracking of women, she sent out tweets with the news, which were met with outrage from both men and women in Saudi Arabia. Reply tweets made proclamations like, “[H]ello Taliban, here with some tips from the Saudi e-government” and “[W]hy don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?”

Instead of making the guardianship system hi-tech, Saudi Arabia should be phasing it out.

It’s ironic that one of the richest, most technologically advanced countries in the world is using technology to ensure that its human rights, morality, and treatment of women does not progress past that of the 7th century. The more advanced technology gets, the more backward and controlling of women becomes Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, feminists in the West, especially in America, don’t realize how good they have it.

There are constant cries of “sexism” or accusations of male patriarchy every time a man compliments a women’s legs (“objectifies” her), or an older boss innocuously puts his hand on an employee’s shoulder (“sexually harasses” her), or a man provides his wife with an opportunity to be a stay-at-home mother (“devalues” her).

Some men are afraid to open doors for women or pay for them on dates out of fear of “insulting” today’s “emancipated” women. And supervisors may go overboard in censoring the workplace out of fear of being slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Yes, feminists in the West have made themselves clear: treat them like men or they don’t consider themselves equal.

Yet, women in Saudi Arabia are legally infantilized by the guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and treated as less than second class citizens in most of the Islamic world. Real human rights for women just plain do not exist under Sharia law.

It is true that the Sharia does not directly address text messages or driving. However, the humiliation, excessive control of women, their subjugation and general deprivation of freedom as manifested in policies such as airport e-monitoring, certainly derive from the gender inequality based in Islamic law.

Yet, the technological advancement used to tighten control of women even further produces not a peep from the Gloria Steinem’s of the West. Though Saudi feminists are outraged, when it comes to true sexism based in Islamist ideology and culture, liberal feminists in the West are, as usual, silent. Mum’s the word.

Deborah Weiss is a lawyer and a freelance writer. She is a co-author of “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamist Terrorist Network” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

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