In the summer of 2000, I received an e-mail message from a Saudi woman named Nura. She was the mother of three girls who were in elementary school. I didn’t know who she was. She told me that she was suffering from breast cancer and she didn’t have much time to live. She added that she felt that she could die in peace and wouldn’t worry about her girls because she had a faith that I would make a difference in Saudi women’s lives.
I thought of Nura recently when the Saudi authorities invested in a new technology to be the “watchdog” for men. Two weeks ago, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are traveling together.
It’s a new tracking system that was introduced by the Interior Affairs Ministry to monitor women’s cross-border movements as if we were criminals.
Usually, governments around the world try to bring the latest technology to their people to improve their services and to move forward toward the future. But the Saudi government uses the technology to keep its backward traditions, in order to have more control over people’s lives, especially women’s. The new tracking system will keep women even more imprisoned than before.
Twelve years after I spoke with Nura, and after all the campaigns I have launched for women’s rights, Saudi women are still suffering a lot in their daily lives. They are still fighting hard at all levels to gain their basic rights.
They are the only women in the whole world who are still not allowed to drive cars.
They are treated as immature people under the guardianship laws. Saudi women have to have a male guardian in order to do their own affairs, regardless of their age, their education or their social status.
A Saudi woman can’t do anything, unless she gets permission from her male guardian, who could be her 16-year-old son.
In Saudi Arabia, women can’t study, work, get married or divorced, live alone, rent a place, get medical care, or travel without a man’s permission.
Nura has passed away, but her faith is still living within me.
Let them track us and monitor us.
That will not stop us from continuing the fight until we get treated fairly and equally.
Nura would have us settle for nothing less.
Wajeha Al-Huwaider is a Saudi writer and women’s rights activist. She is the co-founder of the Society for Defending Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, Newsweek listed her as one of the 150 women who shake the world.
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