There is no denying that the world is changing. But, in many cases, that change isn’t occurring fast enough. For instance, in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women are still required to obtain the permission of a male guardian to travel, obtain a passport, and sign important documents. This is one of many reasons why women are attempting to flee the kingdom.
Rather than address the cultural problems which are contributing to this phenomenon, men in the country have instead turned to an app that allows them to track and limit the movement of their wives, daughters, and sisters. As a result, tech companies Google and Apple are receiving heat from across the globe.
Tasnim News Agency reports that the app is called Absher, meaning “Good Tidings” in Arabic. Its main features include an alert system that sends a text message to the male guardian if their wife, daughter, or sister attempts to use a passport. The app also allows men to cancel travel and restrict women from flying out of certain airports.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior, which runs the app, claims the technology is an attempt to create a digital services platform, including the ability to pay fines. However, the technology isn’t limited to these capabilities. There is also a “dependent” registration and notification alert section that is being excessively used by Saudi men to track the women in their lives.
Though Absher has been in operation for several years, it only recently captured the public’s attention following the high-profile case of Rahaf Mohammad. The Saudi teen fled the kingdom to escape from her abusive family. After finding asylum in Canada, she was tracked down using the app.
Rahaf isn’t the only female to escape the kingdom. Reportedly, dozens of women have stolen the phones of their male guardians to disable the app or to give themselves permission to leave the country. Technology is keeping them in a prison — which is why this news had made international headlines.
On Tuesday, Apple CEO Time Cook announced that the tech giant would “take a look” at the app. As of Wednesday, it is still available on the Google Play and Apple App stores. The delayed response has resulted in harsh criticism from the public. Activists claim the companies are facilitating misogyny and helping to “enforce gender apartheid.”
“Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment. Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement.
Rothna Begum, senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, elaborated, telling NPR:
“It’s really designed with the men in mind. Of course, it’s incredibly demeaning, insulting and humiliating for the women and downright abusive in many cases, because you’re allowing men absolute control over women’s movements.”
Human Rights Watch has called the guardianship system “the most significant impediment to realising women’s rights in the country.” Hopefully, attention to this issue furthers women’s rights efforts in the kingdom.
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