A Saudi man has been jailed for one year for calling for an end to the Muslim kingdom’s male guardianship system that gives men absolute control over women, Saudi media reported on Tuesday.
The man was also fined 30,000 riyals ($8,000) by a court in the eastern city of Dammam and was convicted of “inciting to end guardianship of women” in statements he posted on Twitter and in public posters.
He was arrested while putting up posters in mosques in Al-Hasa district calling for an end to the globally unique system that subjects women in the ultra-conservative kingdom to male control. During questioning, police found out that the man was also behind a wide online campaign to end the guardianship.
The defendant admitted putting up the posters in several mosques, saying he launched an “awareness campaign” after finding that some “female relatives were facing injustice at the hands of their male family members.”
Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women regardless of their economic or social class, and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.
Under the guardianship system a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother and the son in case of a widow must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel, marriage, employment or access to healthcare and other activities.
Even female prisoners have to be received by the guardian upon their release, meaning that some have to languish in jail or a shelter beyond their sentences if the man does not want to accept them.
A woman’s ability to pursue a career or make life decisions is largely dependent on the good will 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.
In September thousands of Saudis signed a petition urging an end to the guardianship system following a Twitter campaign which the court claims was launched by the defendant.
On the first two days leading up to the petition, an estimated 2,500 women sent direct telegrams to the Saudi King’s office imploring him to end the guardianship system. The petition racked up 14,682 signatures after promoting it on Twitter.
Saudi Arabia’s government agreed to abolish the guardianship system twice – in 2009 and 2013 – after a review by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. It instituted some reforms by, for instance, making it easier for women to work, appointing women to the King’s advisory board, and allowing women to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections. However, these reforms had limitations and stopped short of providing women basic rights.