Tens of thousands of Saudi women took to Twitter after Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched a social campaign aimed against cultural paternalism and male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for its oppression of human rights.
The effort was triggered after HRW released a July report on the state of women’s rights in the country. The watchdog report highlighted that so-called male guardianship, a strict form of gender-based cultural domination, is “the most significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country, effectively rendering adult women legal minors who cannot make key decisions for themselves.”
“In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf,” HRW reported.
Within the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Saudi women cannot travel or marry without their male guardian’s permission. Women must be escorted by a male guardian to do such routine activities as renting an apartment, filing legal claims or going to class.
“The impact these restrictive policies have on a woman’s ability to pursue a career or make life decisions varies, but is largely dependent on the goodwill of her male guardian. In some cases, men use the authority that the male guardianship system grants them to extort female dependents. Guardians have conditioned their consent for women to work or to travel on her paying him large sums of money,” the report said.
While preparing the report, HRW interviewed 61 women whose life experiences were documented in the form of videos posted to social media.
HRW initiated a campaign with the #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship hashtag. It found widespread response in Saudi Arabia, with over 170,000 tweets in both English and Arabic sharing the negative experiences of women under the domination of male guardianship, as well as demands for equal rights.