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Saudi gov't accused of tracking women

Nov. 26, 2012 at 2:41 PM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Human rights advocates are protesting a new security measure in Saudi Arabia that alerts men via text message when their wives leave the country.

The Arab nation's history of oppressing women -- it is the only country in the world where women aren't allowed to drive -- has reached a new low with the electronic monitoring of women's travels, said Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who drew worldwide attention for defying the country's driving ban.

Saudi Arabia has what is known as a "guardianship" program, CNN said Monday. All women and minors are assigned a guardian, or mahram -- generally a father, husband or brother. This guardian must authorize the women and children in his care to receive medical care, file charges with the police or travel.

"It's a power that's being used over women," said Eman al-Nafjan, a Saudi writer and blogger who strongly advocates ending the guardianship system. "Women are not free. No matter how old you are, you're always a minor. It's almost like slavery. Guardianship is practically ownership."

In 2010, the Interior Ministry began offering electronic updates to mahrams if anyone under their oversight had their passport scanned and left the country. Recently, even men who never signed up for the service have reported getting the messages, too.

"It shows how women are still being treated as minors," al-Sharif said.

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