Will Changes in the Saudi Male Guardianship System Really Make a Difference?
There are still women activists being punished for protesting it — and the U.S. is complicit
This month, the Saudi Arabian authorities took the long-overdue step of easing restrictions on women under the kingdom’s repressive “male guardianship system.” Finally, women will be allowed to travel without needing the permission of a male relative.
It is an important victory. For decades, they had been subject to the whims and dictates of their brothers, fathers, husbands, and even sons. But the credit does not go to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, whose reign has been breathlessly touted by the international media in the West as ushering in a wave of liberal reforms. The victory belongs to the brave feminists who defied him and whom he continues to imprison for no other crime than peacefully demanding women’s rights and campaigning for an end to the male guardianship system.
For their activism, these women and others have faced criminal charges, been wrenched away from their loved ones, imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to sexual abuse.
The announcement came days before Loujain al-Hathloul — a long-time campaigner for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia — was forced to spend her 30th birthday behind bars, where she has endured torture and other mistreatment since May 2018. Along with al-Hathloul, it is women like Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Nassima al-Sada, and Nouf Abdulaziz who have been punished for challenging the male guardianship system, and other abusive laws, that reduced them to second-class citizens.
For their activism, these women and others have faced criminal charges, been wrenched away from their loved ones, imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to sexual abuse. While being interrogated by high-ranking officials, according to reports by Amnesty International, they were even flogged. When al-Hathloul’s parents visited her in prison last…