Katherine Backler

25 June 2018


Saudi Arabia has lifted its ban on women driving. But the guardianship system, which requires that every Saudi girl and woman be under the authority of a designated male relative throughout her life, remains in place. Without the permission of her guardian – her father, husband, brother, son, uncle, cousin – a woman cannot marry, travel abroad, or be released from prison. A guardian's permission is no longer required for a woman to see a doctor, get a job or report a crime, but many hospitals, employers and police stations still ask for it. Women are supposed to ask their guardian's permission to leave the house, an informal requirement occasionally upheld by the courts. A guardian can file a complaint on the Ministry of Justice website to 'demand submission from those under his guardianship' or to have a woman under his guardianship returned to him. Some guardians are liberal, lenient and supportive, and let women work and travel – but their permission is still required. ‘I’m lucky,’ a student told Le Monde Diplomatique. ‘My father trusts me, but it's not like that for my friends. Every time they beg their guardians to let them go out, they say no, and often they beat them.’ Classical Athens, routinely described as the cradle of Western democracy, had a similar system.

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