The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has hit out against Saudi Arabia as well as companies such as Apple and Google over the Absher mobile app that helps Saudi men enslave women.
The Absher app, which has received fulsome praise from the men folk in the orthodox Islamic country, has also got widespread condemnation from women rights activists around the world. The app, which helps Saudi men prevent their womenfolk and employees from leaving their country without express permission, is a modern tool for an outdated and repressive system of control over women, HRW said in a statement.
The infamous app was recently in news when two Saudi sisters fled the country and requested asylum in Georgia. The sisters, Maha and Wafa al-Subaei, had requested Apple and Google to pull the app as it supported the country's harsh male guardianship system, Reuters had reported.
Through the Absher app, Saudi men can give or take back permission for the women in the family or their workers to travel abroad. The men can even cancel the women's tickets and get SMS updates if the women try to circumvent the checks.
Saudi Arabia should end the discriminatory travel restrictions on women and migrants, while Google and Apple should also publicly call on the country to end the male guardianship system, HRW said. "They should update their terms of service to prohibit apps expressly designed to violate rights and make every effort to mitigate human rights harm before making such apps available," HRW said.
"Saudi Arabia should end its humiliating and discriminatory requirement for women to have male guardian permission to travel abroad," Rothna Begum, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. "Saudi authorities allow male guardians and employers to trap women and migrants in the country ... Such control over people's lives facilitates domestic violence and abusive labor conditions," Begum added.
Absher is a government e-service portal
Saudi Arabia, which officially follows the orthodox Wahabbi line of Islam, has long held that women should not venture out of home or travel abroad without the company of a male guardian. A man's presence and concurrence is a must for all Saudi women who want to take a passport, travel abroad, marry, undertake higher education, or be released from prison, HRW pointed out.
What makes Absher particularly powerful is that it's a government e-service portal. While its main purpose is to streamline the renewal of passports and facilitate the hiring of new migrant labour visas, a section of it allows male guardians to refuse or allow women and children to travel abroad or obtain a passport, HRW points out.
HRW says that it's aware of several cases where Saudi guardians have stopped women from travelling abroad for education. It also says it also knows at least three cases wherein women surreptitiously obtained their father's mobile phone password and changed the Absher travel permission settings.