In what is widely viewed as yet another sexist and repressive act, Saudi Arabia has introduced an electronic tracking system to monitor its female citizens’ cross-border movements. The system is designed to send alerts to men whenever women under their custody, which include wives and daughters, leave the country.
Since last week, some Saudi women’s male guardians have been receiving text messages from immigration authorities, the AFP reported.
The news first surfaced on Twitter when Manal al-Sherif, a Saudi women’s rights activist, was alerted by a couple.
The husband, who was traveling with his wife, received a text from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh, the AFP reported.
To leave the kingdom, Saudi women are required to seek permission from their male guardians, who give consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border, according to the report.
The recent controversy caused by the escape of a Saudi woman to Sweden is believed to have prompted the authorities to implement the system, Al Arabiya reported, citing local media.
It was earlier reported that the woman was converted to Christianity and fled the country with the help of a Lebanese man and a Saudi colleague. She went to Bahrain, and then to Qatar before traveling to Lebanon, local daily Al-Yaum reported in July.
The woman’s father filed a lawsuit against the two men for helping his daughter leave the country without his knowledge. The Lebanese man was reportedly jailed earlier this week in the city of Khobar on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, Al Arabiya said.
The move to monitor women’s movements has become a target of Twitter mockery within the kingdom, with a flurry of tweets denouncing the Islamic repression of women.
"Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!" read one post.
"If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I'm either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist," tweeted another.
“Saudi Arabia, what if you combined microchips with slave anklets for your women?” Indian author Nilanjana Roy wrote.
However, a report published by Saudi publication Riyadh Bureau said the system has been in place for at least two years, though with a slight difference. In the past, one had to register for the service to receive the notifications.
Saudi women are not allowed to drive in the country, although there are no specific laws that forbid women from driving. The interior minister formally banned driving by women after 47 women were arrested and punished for participating in a demonstration in cars in November 1990.
In June 2011, female activists launched a campaign to defy the ban, which led to the arrest of many of the campaigners, who were forced to sign a pledge that they would never drive again.
A “scholarly” report released last year by the clerics of Majlis al-Ifta al-Aala, the country's highest Islamic council, warned that there would be no more virgins in the country within 10 years of lifting the driving ban because driving would lead to a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.