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Saudi Arabia's new "tracking" system for women

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 12:33pm
Kasey Panetta, Associate Editor

When you work in the tech world, your days are usually full of creative people doing incredible things; on the darker days, you occasionally stumble on people (or governments) using technology in ways that make your skin crawl.

Reports out of Saudi Arabia are saying when any woman crosses the border, her guardian—usually a husband, father, or brother—will receive a text message notifying him that she has left the country.  While the kingdom isn’t known for its women’s rights, critics feel “tagging” women like a dog that wanders astray is way out of bounds and wrong on every level. Can’t say I disagree.

A few facts about Saudi Arabian women: It’s the only country where women can’t legally drive; women must always be accompanied by a guardian called a mahram; women are listed as dependents on their guardian’s passports; women must always wear a full-length black covering called an Abaya, a hair covering called a hijab, and a face veil called a niqab; women cannot attend school or hold a job without the express permission of their guardians; all requests for healthcare must be approved by the guardian. 

Now, let’s talk about how this digital leash works. Under Saudi law, women must have permission from their husband or the Saudi male head of household to leave the country. Until recently, these permission slips—basically the same ones your parents signed in school except for adults—were actual pieces of paper called “Yellow Slips.” On the slip was a formal declaration indicating written permission that a woman could leave the country.

Now, they’ve gone digital.

When a woman has her passport scanned, the electronic monitoring system notifies whoever has her listed as a dependent via text message. This can happen whether she is leaving the country via an airport or border check. The guardian will receive the message even if he is traveling with the woman or, you know, has no problem with his adult wife leaving the country without his express permission.

According to reports, this system has been around since 2010, but a guardian had to opt into it, so the system didn’t track every single grown, adult female trying to exit the country. 

Basically, every woman—each grown, adult, mature, woman—moving out of the Kingdom should be wearing an ankle bracelet because they’re essentially prisoners.

 Not only is tracking constituents like a wayward book you ordered off Amazon an abuse of technology, it’s an abuse of power and shows a complete disregard for women as human beings. The Saudi government has called this an attempt to “digitize” the bureaucracy and bring it into the 21st century by making everything electronic, which is really just an insult to women everywhere. If they were really attempting to bring the kingdom into 2012, they wouldn’t insist on leash laws for women.

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