Absher (application)

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Absher (Arabic: أبشر‘Abshar, roughly meaning “good tidings” or “yes, done”[1]) is a smartphone application which allows citizens of and residents in Saudi Arabia to use a variety of governmental services. Amongst several other services with the Absher app, it can be applied for jobs and Hajj permits, passport info can be updated and electronic crimes can be reported.[2] The application provides 160 services for residents of Saudi Arabia including making appointments, renewing passports, residents' cards, IDs, driver's licenses and others,[3] and, controversially, enables Saudi men to track the whereabouts of women they control as part of the country's male guardianship system.[4]

The app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store and is provided by the Saudi Interior Ministry.[5][6] According to the Ministry of the Interior, Absher has more than 11 million users.[2] As of February 2019, Absher has been downloaded 4.2 million times from the App Store.[7]

Impact on women's rights[edit]

The app gained media attention in 2019 for its functions supporting the Saudi policy of male guardianship after an investigation by Business Insider.[8] The app allows designated guardians to get notifications if a woman under their guardianship passes through an airport, and withdraw their right to travel.[9]

In a few cases, women have been able to circumvent the intended functions of the app by gaining control over its settings to use it to allow themselves to travel.[10]

In response to this criticism, Apple's CEO Tim Cook stated in February 2019 that he intended to investigate the situation.[7][11] Google has also stated that it would review the application.[12] After a prompt review, Google refused to remove the app as it does not violate the agreed terms and conditions.[13]

In the context of this, Absher manager Atiyah Al-Anazy announced that 2 million women are currently using the application in Saudi Arabia to facilitate their transactions.[14] Some female users have stated that the application has made their movement and travel related issues easier.[15]

Controversy[edit]

The app has been criticized by various human rights activists, human rights organizations and international communities. The US and the European countries have also condemned the app and urged the kingdom to end its male guardianship system.[16]

US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote a letter to the CEO’s of Apple and Google, criticizing the app and demanding for its removal immediately. Wyden said "American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy," and called the Saudi system of control over women "abhorrent".[17]

According to the EU lawmakers, current rules imposed over the women by the Saudi government make women “second-class citizens”. The lawmakers also asked the EU states to continue to build pressure on Riyadh so as to improve the conditions of women and human rights.[18]

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Apple and Google of helping "enforce gender apartheid" by hosting the app.[19]

US congresswomen Rep. Katherine Clark and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney condemned the kingdom’s male guardianship system that reflected from the app, calling Absher a "patriarchal weapon" and asking for its removal.[16]

However, Saudi doctor Khawla Al-Kuraya supported this app an editorial in Bloomberg News. Kuraya wrote that Absher helped Saudi women avoid governmental bureaucracy as it allows their male guardians to process their travel permits anywhere and anytime through the App. Although she believes that the guardianship system needs to be reconsidered, she thinks that Absher is an important step towards facilitating women-guardians related issues in Saudi Arabia.[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "What to Know About Saudi Arabia's 'Woman-Tracking' App". Time.
  2. ^ a b "Official Webpage". Ministry of the Interior of Saudi Arabia. 16 February 2019.
  3. ^ "How 'Absher' app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy". Arab News. 2019-02-17. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  4. ^ Shaban, Hamza (12 February 2019). "Critics call on Apple and Google to shut down Saudi app that can restrict women's travel". Washington Post.
  5. ^ "Critics call on Apple and Google to shut down Saudi app that can restrict women's travel". Hamza Shaban. Washington Post. 13 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  6. ^ "Apple, Google slammed for sporting app that allows Saudi men to track women". The Economic Times. 9 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  7. ^ a b Lovejoy, Ben (2019-02-13). "Tim Cook says unaware of Absher app, used to spy on Saudi women, promises to investigate". 9to5Mac. Retrieved 2019-02-17.
  8. ^ Bostock, Bill. "Saudi Arabia runs a huge, sinister online database of women that men use to track them and stop them from running away". INSIDER. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  9. ^ Hubbard, Ben (2019-02-13). "Apple and Google Urged to Dump Saudi App That Lets Men Track Women". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  10. ^ Bostock, Bill. "Apple and Google accused of helping 'enforce gender apartheid' by hosting Saudi government app that tracks women and stops them leaving the country". INSIDER. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  11. ^ "Apple, Google Criticized For Carrying App That Lets Saudi Men Track Their Wives". NPR.org. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  12. ^ Hubbard, Ben (2019-02-13). "Apple and Google Urged to Dump Saudi App That Lets Men Track Women". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  13. ^ Bostock, Bill. "Google, siding with Saudi Arabia, refuses to remove widely-criticized government app which lets men track women and control their travel". INSIDER. Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  14. ^ "2 million women on Absher as Saudi app users surge". Arab News. 2019-02-28. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  15. ^ "What to Know About Saudi Arabia's 'Woman-Tracking' App". Time. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  16. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia tried to justify its app that lets men control where women travel amid a firestorm of criticism". The Insider. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  17. ^ "A US Senator has demanded that Apple and Google remove a Saudi Arabian government app that allows men 'abhorrent' control over women's lives". The Insider. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  18. ^ "EU lawmakers urge Saudi Arabia to end women's guardianship system". Reuters. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  19. ^ "Apple and Google accused of helping 'enforce gender apartheid' by hosting Saudi government app that tracks women and stops them leaving the country". The Insider. Retrieved 8 February 2019.x
  20. ^ Al-Kuraya, Khawla (March 6, 2019). "Let Saudi Women Find Their Way". Bloomberg News. Retrieved March 20, 2019.