In what seems to be a controversial change for women in Saudi Arabia, a tracking system has been suspended that formerly had husbands notified of their wives’ whereabouts. It was put in place by the Passports Department with the purpose of tracking women, specifically when they left or came into the country. The procedure involved sending a text message to notify the husband without any authorization from his wife.
Controversial not in regards to whether or not the suspension of this infantilizing system is something beneficial for women in Saudi Arabia, but controversial in the news as to whether this is a monumental step for women or simply not enough of a change.
The tracking system is one of the many limitations placed on Saudi women. In fact, women in Saudi Arabia need to have a ‘guardian’ who makes key decisions for them about their lives. This ‘guardian’ is often a male relative and can go as far to decide whether the woman should go to college. It is also illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, strengthening the power this monitoring system has had over women in the past.
The tracking system has been argued by the spokesperson of the Passports Department, Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad al-Laheedan, to be beneficial in helping individuals know where family members are. In rebuttal to this, some Saudi women have protested saying that men should have to be tracked as well if the purpose is just to provide useful information rather than just control the actions of women.
Al-Laheedan also released a statement saying “The system has been suspended due to some observations and will undergo amendment… In the past, the system included all the names that were registered. However, in the next phase, it will be optional. The amendments seek to make it better and fulfill all its objectives.”
Since this is only a suspension, this does leave the door open for the tracking system to be put back in place. If not, it seems that the system will be ‘optional’, yet the question remains who will be able to decide who opts in or out?
The publication Foreign Policy has taken the stance that this is hardly monumental, to say the least, as other restrictions and regulations placed on women will dictate a Saudi woman’s ability to travel more so than the monitoring system did. Even though it is suspended, a woman’s ‘guardian’ can stop her from traveling anyway.
On the other hand, Reuters has posted an article indicating that they are of the belief that this is the start of major changes for women in Saudi Arabia and women are celebrating.
Whether or not this is a major step should be left to personal opinion. Either way, there are protests happening against other limitations which are worth commemorating. Certain Saudi women have been defying the driving ban by uploading YouTube videos that portray them behind the wheel driving without a male in sight.
Could radical changes for Saudi women be on the rise? There is a chance once the suspension is lifted that the new ‘optional’ system will still restrict women, but if done away with completely, maybe women can start to expand their horizons and ditch their guardians.
– Danielle Warren