Human rights activists and lawmakers are pushing Google and Apple to remove Absher, an app male guardians in Saudi Arabia are using to track women, from their app stores, CNN reports.
Launched in 2015 by the Saudi government, Absher — which roughly translates to “Yes, sir” — allows men to track women’s travel through their national identity cards or passports, according to the New York Times. It’s used more generally to access a range of government services, like renewing drivers licenses. Men can use push alerts to notify them when a woman has arrived at an airport and revoke their right to pass through.
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a letter on Monday to the two tech companies, asking them to remove Absher and stop “enabling” users to engage in the “abhorrent surveillance and control of women.” .
Apple CEO Tim Cook said he didn’t know about the app in an NPR interview on Tuesday.
“But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case,” he assured.
A Google spokesperson told CNN the company is “looking into it.”
In Saudi Arabia, women can’t make decisions about most basic activities, such as travel, work, and school, without consulting their male guardian — usually a close male relative. In the case of Absher, some Saudi women were able to go onto their guardians’ phones without them knowing to grant themselves travel access through the app, Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum told CNN.
Whether it’s old-fashioned paperwork or Absher app that enables gender apartheid in #Saudi Arabia, remember that it is male guardianship that is the issue here. Women’s rights activists are in prison and have been tortured for fighting to end it.#EndMaleGuardianship— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) February 14, 2019
The Saudi government has yet to respond to requests for comment on Absher.
Human rights organization Amnesty International has also called on Google and Apple to remove the app.
“The use of the Absher app to curtail the movement of women once again highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms," an Amnesty International spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.
Saudi activist and scholar Hala Aldosary said removing the app would send the right message to the Saudi government, but it won’t single-handedly end the guardianship laws.
In early January, teenager Rahaf al-Qunun ran away from her parents to escape Saudi Arabia’s restrictive laws. Her journey to seek asylum drew international attention to how urgently women in the country need reform.
Over the past couple of years, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanlifted the country’s decades-long driving ban and allowed women to attend sporting events, but those who stand up against the country’s oppressive laws under have experienced serious consequences. Despite the moves toward progress, dozens of rights activists have been tortured and detained.