In a highly unprecedented act, more than 2,500 women stormed the Saudi Arabian King's office in a bid to end a highly oppressive male guardianship system.
Currently, women have to seek permission from a father, brother or other male relative if they want to travel, work, study, marry or even leave prison. Women also still can't drive a car in the country, a law that has been highly protested over the years.
"We are entrusted with raising the next generation but you can’t trust us with ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense," said a 34-year-old Saudi woman to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Major activist Aziza Al-Yousef has been leading the movement against the guardianship system for over a decade, The Guardian reports. She began the campaign by educating women on the oppressive nature of the government and imploring them to take action.
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Over 14,680 have signed an online petition against the current rule. When Al-Yousef and other activists tried to deliver the petition by hand to the Royal Court, she was stopped and told that she would have to send it by mail. That's when she and 2,500 other women from around the country decided to take action and bombard the King's office with direct telegrams, harshly condemning the guardianship system.
The law stems from a particular reading of the Qu'ran, according to Hamid M Khan, deputy director of The Rule of Law Collaborative. "This notion of guardianship is not necessarily embedded in the Qur’an but it’s based upon the jurist view that there are certain patriarchal understandings about the necessity of guarding a woman from these men," he told The Guardian.
Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim majority country to employ guardianship rule extending beyond marriage contracts. Thanks to the work of Al-Yousef and other activists, the Saudi government has made some progress, according to The Guardian, and has given women the right to vote and run for office. It has also made it easier for women to work.
However, the guardianship system still has a long way to go before it is abolished, and, to Al-Yousef, this shows that women are still seen as subordinate beings.
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"Women should be treated as [full citizens]," said Al-Yousef. "This is not only a women’s issue, this is also putting pressure on normal men ... this is not an issue for women only."