January 12, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 458

Female Saudi Columnist to Prince Nayef: Why Do Saudi Women Need Guardians?

January 12, 2003
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 458

Recently, female Saudi columnist Nourah Abdul Aziz Al-Khereiji [1] wrote an article titled "ID Cards for Women: Why Insist on Guardian's Consent?" which discussed progress in Saudi Arabia now that Saudi women have separate ID cards for the first time. The article criticized the Saudi government for not recognizing these ID's and for requiring women to have a guardian in order to obtain an ID. The following is the article: [2]

ID Cards for Saudi Women: "Historic Decision"

"The Hijra Year 1422 (2001-2002) should be remembered as a year of victory for women. It is the year in which the authorities decided to issue separate ID cards to women; the decision was made after a long and tireless period of waiting. It was social considerations rather than religious teachings which delayed this historic decision. The ID card is women's defense against exploitation and impersonation — to both of which they have often been subject."

"Though a separate ID card for women in no way violates Islamic principles, some people objected in the name of religion. In fact, Islam upholds women's rights to dispose of independently their property and possessions. Nobody will be shocked by counter arguments from people who take advantage of women's inability to identify themselves in financial, property, or other dealings. On the contrary, I am puzzled by some women who resent the idea of women's ID cards which guarantee the protection of their own interests. Their objection reminds me of the type of protests made by some women decades ago against the government's decision to open girls' schools. The women created an uproar about female education, arguing that it would propel society into moral turpitude. If only they had read the early history of Islam, they would have seen the fallacy of their arguments and our religion's insistence on seeking knowledge regardless of sex."

"The government has opened separate offices adjacent to the men's offices — but completely apart so there will be no mixing of the sexes — in the Civil Status Department to issue ID cards to women. I can personally state that the women's section is completely separate from the men's section. The women's section is staffed exclusively by women and is also equipped with all the necessary office machinery."

Get Male Guardian Consent in Order to Get ID

"What has prompted me to write this article are the complaints I have received from some women who are unhappy about the difficulties they experienced when applying for their card. One such difficulty is the clause that a woman's legally registered guardian should go personally to the Civil Status Department, give his consent in writing for the woman's ID card, and he should personally receive the application form for the card. Then he should personally return the form to the office after filling it in."

"In my opinion, the guardian's consent should not be necessary for a woman as the card is issued only to an adult woman who has achieved her majority and so she has the natural right to establish her identity. Issuing the card to a woman without her guardian's consent or personal presence does not involve any violation of Islamic teachings. It is sad that a number of women who want their own card are deprived of it, either because their guardians do not approve or the guardians plan to continue exploiting them. Or they may be too ill or old to go to the Civil Status Department. Sometimes the guardians deliberately put obstacles in the way of the women getting the cards because they have some disagreement with them. There can of course be other reasons as well."

"One of my friends told me that the Civil Status Department refused to accept her application because her guardian was abroad for several months. Officials at the Civil Status Department advised her to give the power of attorney to another man to act on behalf of her guardian. Does a simple matter such as the submitting of an application call for a power of attorney? Why cannot the application be submitted by a woman in the women's section which can then approve it and forward it to the men's section for processing? Women also demand that the card not be optional but compulsory for all women so that their official, financial, and property dealings are guaranteed safety and transparency."

To Prince Nayef: Even Though Women Now Have ID's – Why Aren't They Recognized?

"Prince Nayef, we respectfully request that you review the clause about guardian's presence and consent. We also request that you direct all government departments and banks to recognize the women's ID cards as valid official documents which establish a woman's identity. Some banks and, I understand, Saudi Telecom Company, still will not accept a woman's ID, even for such simple operations as changing a mobile chip."

"We also request that you review the women's travel regulations which requires the written consent of her legally registered guardian. Once again, canceling this would not involve any violation of Islamic teaching. In fact, Islam stipulates that a mahram (a guardian) should accompany a woman who is traveling and not a letter of consent from a legally registered guardian. Any son, brother, grandfather, grandson, husband, or uncle is a mahram ."

[1] Nourah Abdulaziz El-Khereiji writes for ArabNews and Al-Bilad, an Arabic newspaper published in Jeddah.

[2] The article originally appeared ArabNews, November 22, 2002, and then in ArabNews, December 14, 2002,

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