How Saudi Arabia’s Guardianship System Harms Women — and the Economy

Amal contacted me two years ago. She was 30 years old, a junior university professor, and she needed help. For four years her father had beaten her, locked her in her room, and threatened to stop her from working because she wanted to marry a non-Saudi professor. Now she wanted to explore a potential escape from the country of her birth, Saudi Arabia.

For a Saudi woman, personal choice is a luxury. Her decisions must conform to her male guardian’s. Only women with agreeable guardians can control their lives. The rest must live with whatever limitations their guardians dictate.

Amal consulted a lawyer, but it left her even more desperate. Courts approve less than five percent of all cases filed to remove guardianship. Even when a court challenge is successful, it is up to a woman’s new guardian, often the next-of-kin male relative, to approve her choices — in this case, a marriage to a non-national.

Amal’s only other option was to leave the country and marry abroad. But she would still need a passport and a permit to travel from her guardian. Amal was thus stuck.

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