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Girls & Women

14,000 Sign Petition to End Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia

In a startling reminder of why it’s so important to vote and engage in civil society, a petition to end male guardianship rose out of Saudi Arabia Monday and thousands of women signed on.

Currently, in order to travel (and in compete in the Olympics), marry, start a bank account, exit prison, access healthcare, and other tasks critical to civil rights, women are required by law to be accompanied by a male relative.

The law makes things like voting difficult, since a woman needs the permission of her male guardian and to secure a ride to the poll station — as women are not permitted to drive in the country.

Learn More: Not Registered to Vote? We Can Help! #showupVote

Some women feel the law limits their civil rights and they do not feel like complete citizens in Saudi Arabia because of the law’s limitations.

“Women should be treated as a full citizen,” activist Aziza Al-Yousef told The Guardian.

The petition has over 14,000 signatures. It’s sparked Twitter conversations on male guardianship under the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian, and led to 2,500 direct telegrams targeted at King Salman of Saudi Arabia’s office. The social movement also garnered solidarity from more women around the world.

“My son is my guardian, believe it or not, and this is really humiliating ... My own son, the one I delivered, the one I raised, he is my guardian,” a 62-year-old Saudi woman shared in Boxed In —  a report on the effects of male guardianship from HRW.

Read More: Women Are Treated Like Children, Thanks to This Saudi Arabia Practice

“We all have to live in the borders of the boxes our dads or husbands draw for us.” Zahra, 25, told Human Rights Watch.

This is not the first time the government of Saudi Arabia has faced demand to end male guardianship. The government has even made promises to end the practice twice. Once in 2009, and then again in 2013.

Both times small steps forward were taken, however these were not enough. Women are able to vote now and run for office. Yet the positions open to women remain small in number and responsibility.

Read More:Women Vote in Saudi Arabia for First Time, Land 19 Seats

The government also adjusted provisions to make it easier for women to work. Power and economic opportunity for women to join the labor market is held back by male guardianship as some businesses still require permission from guardians for women to be employed.

The petition is a strong collection of voices ringing loud the basic human rights women are continuously denied through male guardianship laws. Some religious clerics have even signed onto the petition giving it more support and power.

“They all declared that this is not religion, this is all government rules and it should be changed,” Yousef said of the religious clerics who’ve signed the petition.