Saudi Arabia has been accused of introducing an electronic system that alerts men when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are traveling together.
Manal Al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign that last year urged Saudi women to defy the Gulf state’s driving ban, said she was alerted of the new regulations after a couple reported it to her.
The activist said the husband of the couple received a text message from immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the Riyadh airport. He was traveling with his wife at the time.
The move provoked an outcry on social networks and has been widely condemned by human rights activists.
Saudi TV presenter and Arab women's issues commentator Muna AbuSulayman criticised the initiative: “It shows the fear some men have of women becoming independent and relying on their own,” she told Arabian Business.
“The outrage that is felt by women is because it is quite humiliating to be treated like a child when you are an adult. We are constantly moving forward with women’s rights and then something like this pops up that reminds you that everything we get is due to decrees [and] not real across-the-board change in social mindset,” she added.
“I suggest that instead of revoking this initiative, we extend it to men and see how they feel when the potential of their every move is reported back to the women in their lives.”
The backlash also extended to Twitter. “Seriously I thought they were trying to improve women’s rights in Saudi Arabia? How sad,” read one post.
“To put an adult woman under the constant control of her husband is proof that the wife is a slave,” wrote another.
Saudi Arabia applies an austere version of Sunni Islam which does ensures public segregation between men and women. Women in the Gulf state must have written approval from a designated male guardian to work and travel abroad and are not allowed to drive.
While there is no specific law that bans women from driving, Saudi law requires its citizens to use a locally issued license while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, effectively making it illegal for them to drive.