Digital Doomsday for Saudi Arabian Women

Marina Smoske, Internal Operations Analyst

Women in Saudi Arabia now cannot leave the country without their husband or closest male family member being alerted.

A whirlwind of fear and disbelief has erupted in Saudi Arabia with the introduction of a new system for keeping tabs on women- text messages.

The notoriously oppressive Saudi Arabian government has taken its extreme practices to a new level, now sending text alerts to men when their female dependents attempt to leave the country.

The new electronic tracking system, intended to aid men in keeping track of their female dependents, began unceremoniously with a message sent to a man traveling with his wife, alerting him that she had left the Riyadh International Airport.

“The authorities are using technology to monitor women” and to enforce the “state of slavery under which women are held,” stated Saudi Gazette columnist Badriya al-Bishr. 

Typically, women are not permitted to travel internationally without official consent of their male guardians through what is known as the “yellow sheet.” Though the same paperwork can one be completed electronically for convenience, text confirmation is entirely new.

Activist Manal al-Sherif, an activist responsible for leading a protest against the ban on females driving was tipped off by the couple, who chose to remain anonymous.  Using the notoriety she gained through being the face of the volatile campaign, she let’s the news spread like wildfire.

Many Saudi Arabians took to Twitter to express their disgust of the new system. One man tweeted:

“If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I’m either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist.”

Saudi Arabia upholds a strict interpretation of Sharia, or Muslim Law, that has made the country notorious for suppressing women.  Women are all but absent from public life and mainstream jobs and are forced to wear a cloak called an abaya, that covers all but the hands and face for purposes of modesty. A niqab, which covers all but the eyes, is also common in Saudi Arabia,

Saudi Arabia is also the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive.  Though there is no official law prohibiting females driving, a ban was put in place after widespread demonstrations by women in cars in the 1990s.

A Thomson Reuters global survey on women’s rights conducted earlier this year ranked Saudi Arabia the second worst country in the world to be a women, only outranked by India, reigning supreme due to dowry disputes and honor killings.

As the world watches and waits, reviled by the new tracking system, many wonder what is to become of women’s status in Saudi Arabia.

“There can never be reform in the kingdom without changing the status of women and treating them as equals to men,” noted liberal activist Suad Shemmari.