saudi arabia

How would you feel if you, as a woman, were being physically tracked by your father or your husband or your brother? When I say tracked, I mean using a phone app. That’s the reality for many women in Saudi Arabia, but the bigger question is whether or not Apple or Google should allow those apps to be sold in their app stores? According to the Washington Post, the Saudi Interior Ministry designed this app to serve as an e-government and e-services portal as it includes functions like requesting a passport or birth certificate. But it also allows for Saudi men to “specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders”. This app will also give men real-time SMS updates when the females are travelling.

The app, known as Absher, can be used to restrict which destinations Saudi women can travel to as well as prevent them from travelling outside of the country. The app will also alert the men if their female relatives try to leave on their own. This is a huge deal though, isn’t it? I mean, the fact that women in Saudi Arabia live under a patriarchal guardianship system is extremely archaic to start, because it requires a woman to be legally dependent on a man. For example, it means that a woman needs a man’s permission to attend school, manage their finances, to marry and even to travel within their own city. Women are also required to have male chaperones in many situations, and of course, they have fewer legal rights than men do. Further, women can actually get arrested for not behaving in a manner that suits the patriarchy.

I’m not trying to make this all about how the Saudi Arabian government works, but without that patriarchal system, this app wouldn’t be available. While we live in a free society, it makes you wonder if we, in fact, are also being tracked. Think of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and you might agree with me on that statement. That’s not to say that women need a man’s permission to do things like go to the grocery store, or manage her own finances, but I would argue that there is a societal pressure to it. Even though our society here is free, we still live in a bit of an oppressive regime. Men seem to be expected to excel at managing finances (for example), where it’s still expected that women will manage the household.

But for Google and Apple to support the app seems wrong. Isn’t the app itself a human rights abuse? I mean, if a woman is being tracked, this app is essentially putting the woman in harm’s way of getting punished by the man. Which is why I’m really surprised that Apple and Google are allowing this app in their app store. That said, both have different systems for identifying inappropriate apps, so maybe this hasn’t been flagged yet? Or maybe the fact that it’s under the guise of an “official” government app its been overlooked altogether? The more people who know about this, the better the chances that it will get removed as I don’t think either company wants to be involved in what could lead to human rights complaints about abuse.