Activists in Saudi Arabia are set to deliver a 14,700-signature petition to the government, urging an end to the guardianship system that gives men control over their female relatives.
Campaigner Aziza Al Yousef – a retired university professor from Riyadh – tried unsuccessfully to hand the petition to the Royal Court in person on Monday, and will instead send it by mail as requested.
Speaking to British newspaper The Guardian, Al Yousef said:”Women should be treated as a full citizen.
“This is not only a women’s issue, this is also putting pressure on normal men… this is not an issue for women only.”
Under the existing system a male family member must give permission for a woman to work, study, marry and travel.
Starting as a campaign on Twitter earlier this year, momentum increased following a critical report on the topic by Human Rights Watch. The hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian subsequently went viral. However, opponents to the petition launched an alternative campaign, arguing that the system should be reformed rather than abolished.
Saudi Arabia’s government has gradually moved to improve rights for the kingdom’s estimated 10 million women and girls in recent years. Under the late King Abdullah, women were named to the Shura Council, and in December last year women were permitted to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections for the first time.
Further changes are expected in the wake of Vision 2030, which aims to reduce the country’s dependency on oil through a series of economic and social reforms. Among its initiatives are plans to increase the proportion of women in the workforce from 22 to 30 per cent by 2030 and lower the rate of unemployment from 11.6 to 7 per cent.
No official response to the petition has been issued yet.