The Male Guardianship System in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

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The male guardianship system that reigns in the GCC countries assumes that women should be treated as second-class citizens. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an attempt to position himself as a progressive reformer who believes in equality between men and women, has pushed for a series of reforms in Saudi Arabia that, although relevant for women, are insufficient to end the burdensome restrictions of this oppressive structure. The current paper explores the different implications and ramifications of the guardianship system and also delves into Saudi Arabia’s human rights obligations and the International Community’s stance on the issue. Lastly, it proceeds to make recommendations.

Both the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the International Community recommended the kingdom to abolish the male guardianship system that hinders women’s capacity to make choices about their lives. Despite mild reforms, legal texts such as the 2022 Personal Status Law show that Saudi women’s lives are traversed by an iron patriarchal control justified on the basis of religion. Musawah demonstrates, nonetheless, that Muslim women will not accept the fact that their religion might promote injustice and ill-treatment of half of the human race, working within the frame of Islam to respond to women’s rights abuses.

Women’s rights activism in the country, even though confronted with numerous restrictions, exits and challenges the values of a patriarchal society where the power and authority reside exclusively with the father, husband, or brother. To display, in fact, an image of real modernization of the country, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman should seriously consider the international community’s recommendations on the abolition of the male guardianship system, as well as the relevant opinions of women, whose voices are essential to accomplish women’s emancipation from a male-dominated society.


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Briefing paper_ The Male Guardianship System in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia