Keeping Saudi Women Tagged By SMS
Text alerts for men when their female charges leave Saudi alone is the new frontline in the country's technology war
Want to know whether your wife, sister or daughter has left the county? Well, in Saudi Arabia, there's an app for that. Reportedly, male guardians or mahrams in Saudi Arabia are now receiving text message notifications when their female charges leave the country unaccompanied. "iMahram", as some jokingly call it. According to Wajeha al-Huwaider, a Saudi female activist, when she left the kingdom for a holiday with her family, her husband received a text message from the foreign ministry notifying him that she had departed.
"It is sad how Saudis use technology in a way not intended to be used for," she told The Media Line. "In Saudi Arabia, technology brings more restrictions and misery. They use it to have more control over people's lives, especially women."
Although Huwaider is summarily dismissed as an exhibitionist by some Saudi women (mainly for her regular attempts to leave the kingdom without her mahram's permission in order to highlight the limitations of the guardianship system), it is very likely that she was targeted due to her previous activities.
But it is nevertheless an indication that the authorities are becoming more inventive and resourceful with technology. Just as expatriates in the country are tethered to their native sponsors, women are tethered to their guardians, who, no matter how laissez-faire they may be, must still go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of granting permission for their female dependents to leave the country unaccompanied. Even then, the permission has to be renewed regularly. There is little scope for blanket licences from mahrams – ostensibly to ensure that they are not abused.
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