According to a report by Human Rights Watch, many employers ask for the guardian's consent before hiring a woman, despite the government having disallowed the practice. Photograph:( Getty )
Thousands of Saudis have signed an online petition calling for an end to the government's oppressive guardian system under which women cannot study, travel or engage in other fundamental activities without permission from a male guardian — typically the woman's father, brother or husband.
“Women should be treated as a full citizen. She should be able to decide the age where she will be an adult and will be responsible for her own acts,” campaigner and activist Aziza Al-Yousef said.
So far, about 14,700 people have signed the petition which will be sent by mail to the kingdom's Royal Court on Monday, Al-Yousef told AFP.
Under the Saudi law, which imposes the world's tightest restrictions on women, the guardian has control over a woman's marriage, study and travel plans. At times, women are forced to serve longer sentences in prison if they are not received by a male "guardian" on their release.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, many employers ask for guardian's consent before hiring women, despite the government having disallowed the practice.
Men endorse the petition
A lot of men have endorsed the petition seeking an end to the system that requires them to sign consent forms.
While many open-minded male members readily give the consent, they find it tedious to formally complete the papers, Al-Yousef said.
“Many men find signing consent papers a waste of time,” he added.
Newspaper columnist Abdullah Al-Alweet backed activists' claim who said that Islam does not allow men to control women.
"How can an illiterate father become the guardian of a highly educated woman?" he asked in a Saudi Gazette column, AFP reported.
To boost female employment by allowing them to enter the workforce, the country came up with a plan to reduce the country's dependency on oil by 2030. The guardian system, as activists claim, does not help the goal.
The National Transformation Programme (NTP) has set the target for an increase in women's workforce from 23 per cent to 28 per cent by 2020, AFP reported.
Al-Yousef and activists started a protest movement to end the guardian system five years ago. The movement gained momentum after the Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report fiercely condemning the system.
It was the report that gave birth to the #IamMyOwnGuardian Twitter hashtag two months ago.
"Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system remains the most significant impediment to women's rights in the country despite limited reforms over the last decade," the watchdog said.
(WION with inputs from AFP)