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Saudi female activists demand expanded women's rights in new petition

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2006 FILE photo of unidentified Saudi women walking along a suburban street in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP)

A group of female activists has sent a petition to the Saudi Arabian Shura Council, demanding the end of male guardianship and the expansion of women’s rights.  

The advocates want the Council to take the necessary steps to improve women’s rights and stop domestic violence against them.     

Twenty-five women—including some university professors— recently sent the petition ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, the Saudi Gazette reported, citing Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat.

Azizah Al-Yousif, an activist who signed the petition, said the group is determined to be heard.“This petition renews our demands as women. We want our issues to be put on the top of the Council’s priority list,” she said.

Al-Yousif added that two Shura Council members promised to tackle many of the points raised in the petition.

The changes the group seeks include women no longer be obliged to have a male guardian’s permission to complete education, work, and travel. Women also want to be able to file a lawsuit, receive medical treatment, be released from prison, or apply for an ID or passport without a man’s consent.

Women and children who are victims of domestic violence at the hands of men should be protected by a special law granting them the right to self-determination, according to the letter.

One example of the hold men have over women in Saudi Arabia is called “adhl,” when a male guardian prevents a woman in his custody from getting married. Men can now also demand minors to marry, divorce their wives without compelling reasons, and discriminate against women and harass them at work and in public.

The petition wants to limit these powers.

Women should be treated equally and provided the same opportunities as men to hold high positions in the private and public sectors, and granted the same pension benefits as men, according to the plea.

After detailing their demands for expanded rights, the activists warned that these issues affect the lives of millions of women, and are vital to future generations.

Writing in Al-Riyadh Arabic daily, Haya Al-Manee said that a Saudi woman is considered a minor. “In our society, a woman is treated a minor in every aspect… I don’t know when a Saudi woman would pass the phase of being a minor,” Al-Manee wrote.

According to the website of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington D.C., the Shura Council is a consultative body that consists of 150 members of educated and experienced citizens appointed by the King. In 2004, the Shura Council’s mandate was broadened to include proposing new legislation and amending existing laws without prior submission to the monarchy. But only the King can pass or enforce laws.

Click for more from the Saudi Gazette.