Saudi Woman Challenges Her Dad Over Male Guardianship Law

Imagine that you could not travel or go to school without your dad’s permission. You need him, your brother, or a male driver to take you anywhere you want to go in a car. He even has a say in who you get to marry.

This is life under Saudi Arabia’s guardianship law — a combination of the legal code and religious doctrine within the kingdom. Men have guardianship over the unmarried women in their families, which usually means a father is guardian to his daughter (but in his absence, a son or uncle can fill in). When a woman marries, the guardianship switches over to her husband. Even when Saudi women are no longer minors, they are still treated like children in the eyes of the law.

One woman is trying to change all that: a 43-old-old doctor, going by the pseudonym “Samia” in press reports, is challenging her father’s guardianship in the Saudi Supreme Court.“Samia”‘s story of “adhl” — aka, a guardian’s suppression of women’s rights — is a horrifying one. She was only allowed to go to medical school and become a surgeon after she promised that her parents could take all her wages. Throughout her schooling, she received proposals from several men, but her father nixed every one. There was one particular man who proposed after she graduated whom “Samia” especially wanted to marry. But her father had chosen for her to marry a younger cousin who was less educated than her.

“Samia” took him to court and the father lost, she claims, because he could not prove any of her previous suitors weren’t marriage material. Upon returning home, she was beaten by her dad and brothers and locked inside a room for three months. When she asked again to marry someone of her choosing, she was locked in a room again. Finally, one of her sisters smuggled a cell phone inside, and she was able to call a human rights agency. The human rights group and the police came to spring her from her home and placed her in a shelter. Now she is the shelter’s doctor, earning wages far below what she is worth as a surgeon.

In 2009, “Samia” took her father to court and, according to The Christian Science Monitor, her case was dismissed by a judge who believes in guardianship. The judge ruled “Samia” was a “disobedient” daughter and should see a psychiatrist “to help with her problem in being stubborn with her father and not listening to him because he knows what’s best for her.” An appeals court upheld that judge’s ruling. Recently, “Samia” has obtained a lawyer to represent her in court pro bono. The only good part of this whole story is that Samia’s boyfriend is apparently still waiting for her.

The guardianship culture in Saudi Arabia is problematic to begin with. But “Samia”‘s story proves how inhumane it can be when the guardians are abusive. I wish her the best and, as with the protests by Saudi women to break the law and drive cars by themselves, I hope it will have a trickle-down effect to inspire others.

[Christian Science Monitor]

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