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Positive steps for women in Saudi Arabia “guardianship” system welcomed but more needed, say UN experts

08 August 2019

GENEVA (8 August 2019) – Royal decrees allowing all Saudi women to apply for passports and women aged 21 and above to travel independently without their guardians’ permission have been welcomed by UN rights experts*.

“This is an encouraging move towards the complete abolition of the ‘guardianship’ system,” they said.

“We should not forget that these positive developments are the result of years of relentless advocacy and effort of many human rights and women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. Many are still being held and we call for their immediate release.”

“Women continue to face numerous restrictions under the guardianship system, which gives men arbitrary authority over their female relatives and is based on, and results in, discrimination against women, and negates their fundamental human rights and their dignity as autonomous human beings. It severely impairs women’s equal participation and decision-making in political, economic and social affairs and the enjoyment of their human rights including the rights to freedom of movement, education, work, access to justice, privacy and family life,” the UN experts said.

The Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, expressed grave concern over the technological tools and apps allowing male “guardians” to extend their control of women to the digital sphere and to restrict their freedom of movement.

“I am particularly concerned about the use of the Absher’s mobile phone app that allows male ‘guardians’ to monitor, restrict and control women’s whereabouts and freedom of movement in ways that are incompatible with their human right to privacy,” he said.

“I expect that this type of functionality will be immediately abolished in order to be compliant with both the spirit and the letter of the new law.”

“Any progress will remain very frail unless accompanied by wider reforms and by measures to ensure that rights are reflected and enshrined in the constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and not solely through royal decrees,” the experts said.

While acknowledging this welcoming initiative, the experts urged the government to fulfil without any further delay its pledge to fully abolish the male ‘guardianship’ system as promised at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.


(*) The UN experts: Mr. Joseph Cannataci (Malta) was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy by the Human Rights Council in July 2015. The UN Working Groupon discrimination against women and girls is composed of five independent experts: Ms Meskerem Geset Techane (Ethiopia), Chairperson; Ms Elizabeth Broderick (Australia); Ms Ivana Radačić (Croatia); Ms Alda Facio (Costa Rica),; and Ms Melissa Upreti (Nepal).

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page — Saudi Arabia

For more information please contact: Ms Krystel Abi Habib(+41 22 917 9042) or write to srprivacy

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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