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
“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
“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
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
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.