Saudi anti male-guardianship campaign
The anti male-guardianship campaign is an ongoing campaign by Saudi women against the requirement to obtain permission from their male guardian for activities such as getting a job, travelling internationally or getting married. Wajeha al-Huwaider deliberately tried to travel internationally without male guardianship permission in 2009 and encouraged other women to do likewise. Women activists wrote a letter to the Saudi Minister of Labor and brought media attention to the issue in 2011. A 14,000-signature petition was given to royal authorities by Aziza al-Yousef in 2016 following a Human Rights Watch report on male guardianship. A crackdown against the activists took place in mid-May 2018, with 13 arrests as of 22 May 2018[update]. Several of the women remained in prison as of December 2018[update]. Some of the women activists were tortured, including supervision by Saud al-Qahtani, a close advisor of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
Women in the pre-Roman Arabian kingdom of Nabataea were independent legal persons able to sign contracts in their own name. Roman law gave less rights to women than they had when Nabataea was independent. The restrictions on women in Roman law were inserted into Islamic law. In the late twentieth century, after the Grand Mosque seizure in 1979, King Khalid gave more power to religious groups. In 2016, Human Rights Watch described the male guardianship situation in Saudi Arabia, stating that a Saudi woman's life "is controlled by a man from birth until death". As of 2018[update], any adult woman in Saudi Arabia is required to obtain approval from her male guardian for activities such as accessing healthcare, getting a job, travelling or getting married.
Wajeha al-Huwaider is a Saudi women's rights activist who in 2003 was banned by Saudi authorities from publishing her opinions in Saudi media and was arrested again after holding a women's rights street protest in August 2006. In June 2009, she protested against male guardianship by trying three times to enter Bahrain without permission from her male guardian. She was refused departure from Saudi Arabia at the Bahraini border all three times because of her lack of male-guardian authorisation.
Al-Huwaider encouraged other Saudi women to carry out the same attempted border crossings without male guardian approval, with the aim of ending the male guardianship system.
Appeal to Ministry of Labor (2011)
Late in 2011, during the 2011–12 Saudi Arabian protests, Saudi women started a campaign against the Saudi Ministry of Labor requirement for guardian approval for employment. The group contacted the media and argued that women's equality is established in the eighth article of the Saudi Arabian constitution, and that Islamic scholars generally do not see male guardian approval as a requirement for a women to be employed.
Petition to King and wave of activism (2016)
In July 2016, Human Rights Watch issued a detailed report on male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. The report brought attention to the topic, and Twitter hashtags #IAmMyOwnGuardian and #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen became popular. Several months later, in September 2016, 2500 women sent telegrams to King Salman, and fourteen thousand people, including Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan, signed a petition, calling for the male guardianship system to be fully abolished. Al-Yousef went to the royal court to deliver the petition. Human Rights Watch described the 2016 wave of activism against male guardianship as "incredible and unprecedented".
Noha al-Balawi was detained in January 2018, the first in a 2018 wave of arrests of women's right activists involved in the women to drive movement and the anti male-guardianship campaign. She was questioned during her detention about her women's rights activities. In mid-May 2018, all three of Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan, together with Aisha al-Mana, Madeha al-Ajroush and two male activists, were arrested by Saudi authorities. As of 22 May 2018[update], more anti male-guardianship campaigners had been arrested, bringing the total to 13. As of 25 May 2018[update], four of the women had been released. Hatoon al-Fassi, a women's rights activist and an associate professor of women's history, was arrested around 27 June 2018, not long after she had driven a car following the official lifting of the women's driving ban.
Human Rights Watch interpreted the arrests as being aimed at frightening the activists, stating, "The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince's [human] rights agenda faces time in jail." The arrested campaigners were severely criticised in semi-official media as "traitors". Social anthropologist Madawi al-Rasheed interpreted the May arrests as being part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's aim to keep all the credit for allowing women to drive starting from 24 June 2018. Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch said that since the arrests and the public smearing of the activists' reputations, women's Twitter activity was quiet. As of 27 June 2018[update], Al Jazeera English stated that nine of the activists, out of a total of 17, remained under arrest without contact with their families or lawyers. ALQST described the series of arrests as "unprecedented targeting of women human rights defenders". In June 2018, United Nations special rapporteurs described the detentions and arrests taking place as a "crackdown" taking place "on a wide scale across" Saudi Arabia and called for the "urgent release" of the detainees.
The wave of political arrests in 2018 extended beyond women's rights groups to other individuals making political statements against Mohammad bin Salman's policies. Economist Essam al-Zamil was charged with terrorism as a result of questioning plans involving the national oil company. Political prisoners were held without trial, and public figures, such as Salman al-Awdah, were "wanted dead", according to The Economist.
Samar Badawi, al-Yousef, al-Nafjan, al-Hathloul, Shadan al-Onezi and Nouf al-Dosari were tortured during the detention, with Crown Prince advisor Saud al-Qahtani present at some of the torture sessions. Physical torture techniques included beating the women on their feet, giving them electric shocks and whipping them. The torture location was referred to as "the hotel" or "the officer's guesthouse". One of the women was photographed naked, one was sexually harrassed, beaten and groped, one was stripped naked in front of interrogators. Several had black eyes, suffered from trembling, and were unable to walk or stand normally. One was told falsely that a family member had died. Testimony of torture was obtained independently by ALQST, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
On 2 January 2019, a group of UK members of parliament and international lawyers requested permission to visit the women detainees. However, there was no response from the Saudi ambassador Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz. The UK panel that included former Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee Crispin Blunt concluded that the female detainees had been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, including assault, threats to life and solitary confinement.
On 14 May 2019, one year after the women human rights activists were arrested by the Saudi authorities, Amnesty International criticised Saudi Arabia's western allies, including the US, the UK and France for not doing anything for the "immediate and unconditional release" of the activists.
2019 online campaign
In early January 2019, Rahaf Mohammed sought her right of asylum while transiting Bangkok airport, on the basis of what she stated was physical and psychological abuse by her family. Her situation gained wide international media attention and support from online social networks, saving her from being deported according to ESOHR-appointed lawyer François Zimeray. Following the international online campaign Canadian authorities offered her asylum after she was given refugee status by the UNHCR. Anger against the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi constituting a triggering factor in the online support according to Thomson Reuters. The online reaction included a Twitter revival of the anti male-guardianship campaign, with the trending slogan, "Remove guardianship and we won't all migrate".
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