UPDATED — A local journalist clarifies that this system is operational for all dependents (children, women, and foreign workers) and that it has been up and running for some time. The difference is that previously, men had to register for it; now, immigration authorities text them automatically.
Saudi Arabia has implemented an electronic tracking system to monitor women and inform their husbands if they leave the country.
According to an Agence France-Press story, a new system implemented last week sends Saudi husbands text messages from the Saudi immigration agency when their wives are flying out of King Khaled International Airport, near Riyahd. Women are not allowed to leave the country without signed permission from their husbands.
Saudi Arabia, which ranked second worst in a Thomson Reuters global survey on women’s rights in mid 2012, is a notoriously repressive country. Women are banned from driving, required to have a male guardian, just received the right to vote in municipal elections last year, and must cover most of their bodies, traditionally with a burqa or niqab.
“Women and girls in Saudi Arabia are treated as perpetual minors living under male guardianship all their lives – with restrictions on employment, political participation, travel, education, and healthcare,” Yasmeen Hassan, global director of Equality Now, told Trust.org in response to that survey.
Women being denied the right to leave the country without the permission of their husbands is nothing new, though this tracking technology is. But there are no details in the AFP story or any of the other breaking stories on how exactly the Saudi authorities are doing it.
Based on the limited information available, it may not be a tracking system that uses physical devices such as — and I know this is an awful comparison — a LoJack car-tracking system, which would require a significant infrastructure and ramp-up time for distribution of hardware. It sounds like a simpler system at borders and airports whereby immigration authorities ascertain a woman’s identity, look up her husband in a database, and text him manually or via an automated system.
UPDATE: based on the new local report, this is exactly how the system works.
Which is still, of course, appalling to Western mores and requires a government database that matches up women with male guardians — usually husbands or fathers.
Commentators on Twitter are reacting to the news, some, including Ruwayda Mustafah, a female Kurdish activist/commentator, with despair:
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