Saudi Arabian women have signed a controversial petition to end male guardianship. We are ready to pay the price, Hatoon Als Fassi told DW.
DW: Ms Hatoon Al Fassi, you are one of the famous women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia and a professor for woman’s history at “King Saud University.” Over 14,500 people in Saudi Arabia have signed a petition sent to King Salman calling for an end to the kingdom’s guardianship system, which requires women to have male permission for most of life’s tasks. That is a remarkable number for Saudi Arabia. How could this new collective consciousness develop in very traditional Saudi society?
Hatoon Al Fassi: We cannot tell where this sample of signatories have come from; we need to do another statistical analysis and we don’t have much information. One question was asked, what do you do. But in general and from the social media that keeps the trend of this campaign going every day – today it reached its 95th day – we can say that it comes from middle class women and men, educated and young. Most of the indications go in this direction and with the support of many men.
Hatoon Al Fassi is one of the leading figures of the women’s rights movement in Saudi Arabia
What exactly do you want to change?
With this petition we wanted first to change the status quo that renders Saudi women a “thing” that has no will of its own. The petition is a call to stop and end the system of guardianship for women. This means to stop letting women who are mature and adult to need permission of their guardian (i.e. father, brother, husband, even son) to allow her to study, work, travel, receive a scholarship, be admitted to hospital, undergo an operation related to her own womb, and even to be released from prison after finishing a sentence. This system has nothing to do with religion, however – women were always under the impression that it is so. Our petition and campaign clarified many of these myths as well as showed by proof and evidence that this is a mere patriarchal system that violates women’s human rights.
Is the male dominated society in Saudi Arabia ready for this change?
The conservative society is under the impression that guardianship is religion, so we have seen resistance by many of that community; however, many well-known religious scholars have appeared and spoke out saying that what this campaign is asking for is legitimate and it is true that there is no guardianship on the adult sane mature woman, to name one, Sheikh Abdullah al Menee, member of the Council of Senior Scholars, the highest religious commission in Saudi Arabia that reports to the king directly.