Saudi Government Now Monitors Women Leaving the Country by Sending Text Alerts to Their Male Guardians

A funny — and by funny, we of course mean so absolutely terrifying that the only reaction is to hold yourself and laugh like a committed Batman villain — thing happened last week in Saudi Arabia. Saudi women's male guardians began receiving helpful text messages informing them when the women under their charge leave the country, because nothing makes 21st century technology more terrifying than when it's used to impose medieval-style oppression on a country's citizens.

News that Saudi women were now being monitored by an electronic tracking system has spread quickly since Manal al-Sherif, who last year launched a campaign urging Saudi women to defy a national driving ban, was first tipped-off to the text messages by a couple. The husband, who was travelling out of the country with his wife, apparently received a text message from immigration authorities politely informing him that his wife had left the international airport at Riyadh.

Twitter has since been bursting with outrage over the Orwellian tracking system, with users roundly condemning the Saudi government for implementing a program that, according to columnist Badriya al-Bishr only further contributes to the "state of slavery under which women are held" in Saudi Arabia. The move comes more than a year after female activists like al-Sherif launched a campaign to defy the ban on mobile women that Saudi Arabia has instituted (Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive, though there's no official law on the books preventing them from getting behind the wheel of a car).

Last year also offered new hope that the 89-year-old King Abdullah, a reluctant reformer, would start easing some of the restrictions that Saudi Arabia's strict brand of sharia law has placed on women. The king granted women the right to vote, as well as run for office in the 2015 municipal elections. Moreover, he appointed Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, widely viewed as a moderate, to head the notorious religious police commission. News of the border crossing tracking system, however, has convinced many Saudi activists and journalists that significant progress towards gender equality is still a long way away. "Saudi women are treated as minors throughout their lives even if they hold high positions," said liberal activist Suad Shemmari, who added "there can never be reform in the kingdom without changing the status of women and treating them" exactly the same as men. As of right now, that day in Saudi history seems distressingly far off.

Electronic tracking: new constraint for Saudi women [AFP]