For most of us, mobile messaging provides an invaluable and cheap method of staying in contact with loved ones and friends. But ‘keeping tabs’ has taken on a whole new meaning in Saudi Arabia where men are reportedly using SMS services to ‘monitor’ women.
As of last week, the male ‘guardians’ of Saudi women have been receiving text messages informing them when the ‘women under their custody leave the country’, according to Gulfnews.com. The text alerts form part of a greater electronic passport system implemented by the Saudi government in 2011 and men receive the notifications automatically. Sadly, Saudi women are regarded minors under Saudi’s strict Sharia law, which prohibits them from driving, voting and any unaccompanied cross-border travel. The BBC reported that the Saudi government justified these draconian measures saying that ‘e-passports make it easier for citizens to deal with their travel arrangements’. By this they probably meant that men used to have to sign their consent for women ‘in their care’ to travel, on what is called a ‘yellow sheet’ at the airport or border.
The text surveillance began to receive media attention after a man travelling with his wife received an alert from Saudi immigration authorities while they were leaving the international airport in Riyadh. Since then, Twitter has been ablaze with shocked tweets and feigned sarcasm from women around the world as well as Islamic women’s right activists. One tweet reads – “Why don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?” While another says, “Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!”
Hopefully all the media exposure that has only sought to ridicule these measures will go some way towards having them repealed for good. King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia announced in September 2011 that women would finally be getting the vote (in the municipal elections) in 2015, so here’s also hoping that jokes and jibes about female microchip tracking will remain just that.