Author Topic: Saudi Women: rights/situation - WikiLeaks cable  (Read 2635 times)

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Saudi Women: rights/situation - WikiLeaks cable
« on: November 07, 2012, 08:58:16 AM »
Here's a very interesting WikiLeaks cable about the situation the women in Saudi Arabia are actually dealing with:




1. (C) The SAUDI male guardianship system is the major
impediment to advancing the status of women in SAUDI Arabia.
Although various women's groups have challenged the system,
it has deep roots in SAUDI culture and tradition, but very
little basis in law, as opposed to regulations or policies.
Limited aspects of the system have been codified into laws,
such as the Law on Passports, which requires SAUDI women to
obtain the Guardian's consent to travel. Efforts to change
it face stiff resistance including from conservative women
advocates who have recently mounted new internet campaigns
opposing liberalization efforts. Likewise, SAUDI leadership
efforts to recognize women's individual legal status face
barriers at the implementation level. Some lesser royals
remains critical of liberal activists as well. End Summary.


2. (U) The Male Guardianship System (MGS) bars women from
conducting everyday affairs without the written consent of a
male guardian (father, brother, husband) (Reftel A).
Restricted activities include but are not limited to opening
bank accounts, pursuing an education, working, receiving
medical surgical care, and traveling. The private experience
of women activists like Al-Huwaider as well as evidence
obtained by groups like Human Rights Watch indicate that
women have little-to-no legal standing to conduct their
affairs outside of the home, nor do they have a basis for
challenging the system. This is also evident on university
web sites which explicitly require consent of the male
guardian before a woman can enroll in a curriculum.
Al-Huwaider claims that millions of women are prisoners in
their own homes and that, no matter how old she may be, a
SAUDI woman who comes of age and is not married cannot find a
husband herself. Al-Huwaider argues there are hundreds of
thousands of unmarried women deprived of the right to marry
because of the guardianship system which requires explicit
consent of the male guardian for a wedding to take place.


3. (C) PolOffs visited women's rights activist Wajeha
Al-Huwaider at SAUDI Aramco's main camp in Dhahran on August
5 to learn about her latest activities and campaigns to
further the liberalization of women's rights in the KSA.
Al-Huwaider, founder of the Society for Protecting and
Defending Women's Rights, has received notoriety for
challenging the law prohibiting women from driving (Reftel B)
by posting a video of herself driving in a rural area of the
Eastern Province on YouTube on International Women's Day.
More recently, her activities focused on the right to travel
abroad without a male guardian and without his permission.
She began this campaign by taking a taxi from her residence
in Dhahran to the causeway linking the KSA and Bahrain and
seeking entry to Bahrain. Al-Huwaider is divorced, which
means under SAUDI law her ex-husband or her father or a
brother would need to give her permission to leave the
country. Although she holds a valid passport, every time she
tries to leave the KSA she is stopped at the border to
Bahrain and turned around for not having obtained permission
to leave from her male guardian.

During her last attempt, the border patrol guard told her
once she turned 50 (she is currently 40 years old), she might
be able to leave the KSA without a permit. Al-Huwaider is
continuing this campaign until she is allowed to travel and
until the guardianship system is abolished. She declared
that SAUDI Arabia is "the world's largest women's prison"
with "SAUDI women having no prospects of ever being released."


4. (C) Al-Huwaider believes that she is banned from
participating in training opportunities at SAUDI Aramco, her

RIYADH 00001058 002.4 OF 003

place of employment, because she is regarded as a subversive
influence who would affect other women employees. She also
believes that her radical (by SAUDI standards) stance on
women's rights has affected her family. She cited the case
of a cousin with the same family name who was denied
university entry, despite excellent academic credentials,
when the admissions office learned she was a relative of
Al-Huwaider. The cousin is now studying outside of the
country. All of Al-Huwaider's children are studying in the
United States.


5. (U) The SAUDI leadership's reluctance to fully endorse the
liberalization of women's rights is well reflected in an
August 9 interview of HH Prince Abdullah Bin Saud Bin
MOHAMMAD Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, one of the lesser royals and
member of Jeddah's Tourism Development Council, with the
SAUDI Gazette. The headline of the article states "SAUDI
Women Could Soon be Ministers." However, in the interview
Prince Abdullah Bin Saud only cautiously supports women and
advocates "for controlled openness" noting that "absolute
support is a double-edged sword." According to the article,
Prince Abdullah said he had seen some "uncultured women who
don't recognize restrictions to certain appropriate
situations and who have offended many SAUDI women." He
further stated their behavior does not make it easy for
decision-makers to take steps to help women and further their
importance. The article is based on an interview Prince
Abdullah conducted with Arabic language Roaa Women's Magazine
(bi-weekly circulation of 10,000).

6. (U) Prince Abdullah stressed that everything is permitted
in Islam "except what is restricted by Shariah." SAUDI
clerics have issued fatwas opposing the abolition of the
guardianship principle. Ultimately, even among SAUDIs there
remains a large amount of uncertainty as to what is a
religious mandate and what is a cultural norm, a debate that
greatly hampers the advancement of women's rights in the KSA
(Reftel C).

--------------------------------------------- -----

7. (U) At the same time, the hesitation to fully endorse the
liberalization of women's rights reflects the social reality
that SAUDI leadership is facing opposition to reform from a
large conservative social base that is often reluctant to
embrace change (Reftel D). In November 2001, the Shura
Council voted to begin issuing identity cards for women.
Historically, SAUDI women were registered on their father's
or husband's identity cards and had no independent legal
status. The decision to issue identity cards for women found
support among the highest ranks of the SAUDI leadership,
including HRH Prince NAYEF Bin Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy
Prime Minister of Interior and contender to the throne.
However, only the Guardian is able to actually apply for the
identity card and many families remain reluctant to have
identity cards issued for their female members because the
card requires a photo of the card holder's face, a
requirement that goes against deeply-rooted SAUDI social
customs. Most SAUDI women wear a niqab or facial veil so as
not to reveal their faces in public. Moreover, public
offices still refuse to accept the identity card. Recently,
a female SAUDI employee of US Embassy Riyadh visited a notary
public to obtain notarial services and upon producing her
identity card, the notary public disregarded it and asked her
to produce two male witnesses to identify her. Old customs
are hard to break. Yet identity cards have become obligatory
at universities and in government offices.


8. (U) Activist Rodhah Al-Yousef launched a new campaign
under the slogan "My Ruler Knows Me Best" in which she
invites like-minded critics to comment and vote on her
"National Social Campaign" concerning the liberalization of
women's issues. Her website at
criticizes advocacy designed to liberate women and to
eliminate male guardians. Al-Yousef describes such calls as
attempts to westernize society and violate Islamic teachings.
Her website states: "We reject the ignorant or malicious

RIYADH 00001058 003.4 OF 003

claims made by advocates of liberalization and Westernization
of our Islamic and Arab identity, such as advocacy for the
abolition of the role of guardian." She describes these
efforts as "false pretexts of anti-discrimination against

9. (U) Arabic-language Shams newspaper reported on the
campaign in an August 10 article on page 3, stating the
campaign seeks signatures of one million SAUDI women, a
delegation of which will deliver a letter to HRH King
Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz. The campaign's media advisor,
Muhannad Al-Khayyat, launched the campaign in coordination
with various women's groups to deliver a message against
anyone trying to "prejudice Islamic principles or inherent
Arab values." The repercussions of Al-Yousef's campaign
remain to be seen. However, it is evident that there is a
wide spectrum of opinions on the desirability and the extent
to which women's rights should be granted.


9. (C) The debate over the role of women in SAUDI society is
increasingly public, and reveals a wide spectrum of opinions
on the desirability and the extent of the rights due female
citizens. The great majority of the population, however,
remains deeply conservative and rooted in tradition. Given
the polarization of the issue and the desire of the
leadership to avoid fueling social tensions and instability,
major changes and reforms are likely to be slow in coming,
and as some religious progressives have told the Charge, will
need to be formulated in terms that draw on traditional texts
and customs for their justification. Ref E describes how one
member of the Council of Senior Ulama argues that the Quran
provides women legal rights that SAUDI society is not

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