Thousands of people have circulated a short animation video designed to show the restrictions that Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system places on women.
The video, published on Facebook by Human Rights Watch, depicts a Saudi woman being forced to reconcile with her abusive husband.
The footage, captioned "Even when they abuse their wives, Saudi men still act as guardians over them #TogetherTo EndMaleGuardianship", has been shared more than 2,300 times and gained more 8,400 'likes' in 12 hours.
It shows the woman being beaten by her husband before he orders her to leave the home. She then goes to a shelter and is told the best thing she can do is reconcile with her husband.
It proceeds to show her husband signing a sheet of paper before pulling the crying woman out of the shelter and beating her in the home again.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
The film follows a recent report by Human Rights Watch that finds Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system remains the most significant impediment to women’s rights in the country, despite limited reforms over the last decade.
The report, “Boxed In: Women and Saudi Arabia’s Male Guardianship System,” examines the many barriers women in the country face when attempting to make decisions or take action without the presence or consent of a male relative.
To produce the report Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with 61 Saudi women and men as well as analysing Saudi laws, policies and official documents.
As the law stands every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf.
Another video produced by Human Rights Watch following the report shows a female surgeon in Saudi Arabia receiving an invitation to speak at a cardiac surgery conference in London, but having to get the permission of her son to do so.
Her son declines to give her permission because he doesn't "feel like it".
A third shows a young woman being released from a female juvenile detention centre and hugging her mother, but having to return after her father refuses to grant permission for her release, saying: "She brought shame upon us. There's no way I can ler her come home."
In light of the report, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said: “The fact that Saudi women are still forced to get a male guardian’s permission to travel, work, or do anything else is a long-standing rights violation and a barrier to the government’s plans to improve the economy.
“The government should do itself a favor and finally listen to the demands of half its population to be freed from the shackles of the guardianship system.”
One Saudi woman, 25, told Human Rights Watch: “We all have to live in the borders of the boxes our dads or husbands draw for us.”
Women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia have repeatedly called on the government to abolish the male guardianship system.
In 2009 and again in 2013, Saudi Arabia agreed to take some steps to decrease guardians’ control over women, including no longer requiring permission for women to work and passing a law criminalising domestic abuse.
But Human Rights Watch found that despite these limited reforms, the male guardianship system remains largely in place, hindering and in some cases nullifying the reforms.
Women may not apply for a passport without male guardian approval and require permission to travel outside the country and they regularly face difficulty conducting a range of transactions, such as renting an apartment to filing legal claims, without a male relative.
They cannot study abroad on a government scholarship without male guardian approval, and a male relative must accompany them abroad while they studies, though this requirement is not always enforced.
Women are also barred from driving, and the report found that they face tremendous obstacles when trying to seek help or flee abuse by violent guardians.Reuse content