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Saudi women demand an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system

Saudi women demand an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system with social media campaign threatening to emigrate

  • Campaign has gathered momentum in the wake of a teenager’s flight to Thailand
  • The hashtag ‘drop guardianship or all of us will migrate’ has gone viral on Twitter
  • The system means men must give permission for study, marriage and passports 

Saudi women have demanded an end to the country’s male guardianship laws in the wake of a teenager’s asylum plea to escape her family. 

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, fled to Thailand to escape what she called an abusive family in the Gulf kingdom.   

A hashtag in which Saudi women threatened to leave – ‘drop guardianship or all of us will migrate’ – went viral on Twitter in the wake of the global attention on the case. 

The guardianship system means Saudi women are often only as free as their male ‘guardians’ – husband, father and other male relatives – allow them to be.

A campaign by Saudi women to end the country’s male guardianship system has gained momentum in the wake of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (pictured) and her asylum plea 

The men in their lives have to give formal permission for the women to study, get married or even renew their passports.

Female inmates are often reported to be stuck in prisons after completing their terms because they were not claimed by their guardians. 

One Saudi woman told AFP how she was stuck in limbo, unable to even renew her passport, when her father, her only male guardian, slipped into a coma after an accident. 

‘Guardianship gives men the ultimate authority over women,’ a young Saudi medical student named Bandar said in a video monologue posted on Twitter.


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‘He can control her, slap her, beat her, do whatever he wants and no (government) agency can stop him.

‘This is causing women to dream about living elsewhere, away from where they were born and raised. Why? Because living here suffocates them.’  

Another Saudi man, Ahmad Nasser al-Shathri, tweeted: ‘Saudi society, in general, has utterly failed to come to terms with the reality that women have an equal desire for self-actualisation.’

‘The notion that a women’s innate desire is to be a homemaker is crippling our societal growth.’ 

A hashtag in which Saudi women threatened to leave – ‘drop guardianship or all of us will migrate’ – went viral on Twitter in the wake of the global attention on the Qunun case

One user voiced their support in both Arabic and English, saying: ‘We want our freedom’ 

The campaign has cast a renewed spotlight on women’s rights just months after women won the right to drive.

The ban on female motorists was overturned last June in a liberalisation drive led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

In recent months, Saudi media has championed the first woman restaurant chef, first woman news anchor and even the first woman racing driver. 

But the reform drive is seen as cosmetic by many while men’s arbitrary authority over female relatives remains in place.  

‘The social reforms in Saudi Arabia are very much real and they will improve the everyday lives of women,’ Bessma Momani, a professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo, told AFP.

‘But the guardianship system remains repressive and hinders women’s rights and mobility.’ 

Qunun is now in the care of a UN refugee agency in Thailand, and may be resettled in Australia.           

Many Saudis condemned Qunun for what they described as dishonouring her family.

But as she galvanised international support in a Twitter-led campaign, many others voiced solidarity – especially after the Saudi charge d’affaires in Bangkok was caught on tape telling Thai authorities they should have confiscated Qunun’s mobile phone. 

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