Saudi Arabia has created an application that enables male guardians to track the movement of their female relatives.
This development is said to be due to the rising trend of women escaping from the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The app is named Absher which means ‘Good Tidings’ in Arabic and has been operational for several years but recent events surrounding the case of Rahaf Muhammad, a Saudi teen who fled the kingdom from her abusive family and found asylum in Canada brought it to worldwide attention.
The app has the capability of tracking the movement of female relatives such as wives and daughters which then transmits a message to the male guardians whenever they use their passport to travel outside of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior, which runs the app, claimed this is an attempt to create a digital services platform, which includes the ability to pay fines online.
However, it is its “dependent” registration and notification alert section that is excessively being used by Saudi men to restrict the freedom of women.
Saudi law states it is compulsory for all women to have a legal male ‘guardian’, usually a father or husband who supervises every aspect of her daily life.
This guardianship system severely restricts the movement of women because it requires the permission of their male guardians which is why the creation of this app is drawing considerable anger across the world.
According to a media report, Saudi women seeking asylum overseas had to resort to stealing the phones of their male guardians to disable the app or to secretly give themselves permission to travel before fleeing the country.
Meanwhile, there has been a serious backlash against Apple and Google for facilitating the app which has led to ‘gender apartheid’.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and a women’s rights activist urged that the tech giants to reconsider hosting the app.
A statement issued by Human Rights Watch reads, “Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment. Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women.”
In 2018, Saudi Arabia was elected as a new member to the Executive Board of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and will start its term in January 2019.