Government Repression Control

Perilous Times: Saudi Arabia’s reforms to allow some women to travel without men’s permission will do nothing to help many of the vulnerable people trapped in the kingdom.

Perilous Times: Saudi Arabia’s reforms to allow some women to travel without men’s permission will do nothing to help many of the vulnerable people trapped in the kingdom.

Bill Bostock. INSIDER•August 2, 2019

Saudi Arabia has allowed adult women to travel without needing the permission of their male guardian, but for many fleeing abuse in the country it won’t matter.

Many of the 1,000 Saudis who flee each year are under 21, meaning that despite the change, they still need male permission to leave the country. 

For women over 21 seeking to leave the country, the law will allow them the chance to do so safely, and with a reduced fear of capture.

However, for young escapees like Rahaf Mohammed, who went viral for barricading herself in a Bangkok hotel room in January, it will make little difference, and still force women to flee in dangerous circumstances.

Several previous escapees have spoken of hacking into their guardian’s Absher account — a government e-service part of which lets men approve where women travel  — to give themselves permission to travel.

The news that Saudi Arabia is to allow women to travel without the permission of their male guardian was met with jubilation by women across the Kingdom.

But for the some one thousand women who flee abroad to escape abuse every year, nothing will change.

The reform, announced on Friday, allows women over 21 to get a passport and leave the country without prior approval from their male guardian.

However, women forced to flee — citing abuse and the oppressive guardianship system — are often under 21.

In early January 2019, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed went viral for barricading herself in a Bangkok hotel room while Thai police tried to deport her back to Saudi Arabia, where she had fled from, citing abuse from her father.

Mohammed, as a minor and a woman, needed permission from her guardian to leave the Kingdom, so was forced to take her chance whilst on holiday in Kuwait, already outside of the Kingdom. 

Similarly, under the new rules 20-year-old Dalal al-Showaiki, who says she has fled to Turkey with her 22-year-old sister to escape arranged marriages, would also struggle to leave without alerting her guardian.

Despite the groundbreaking changes to the law announced on Friday, women like al-Showaiki and Mohammed must still risk their lives and leave the country in secret, dangerous circumstances. 

Several escapees have also spoken of hacking into their guardian’s Absher account — a government e-service part of which lets men approve where women travel — to give themselves permission to travel.

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