Runaway Saudi Sisters Call Out Apple, Google For App Letting Men Control Whereabouts Of Women
Maha, 28 and Wafa al-Subaie, 25 two runaway Saudi sisters have called out tech gaints Apple and Google for developing an app which enables men to monitor and control travel plans of their female family members.
This app is called Absher and is a free e-service provided by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of the Interior. As per the New York Post it is only available in the Saudi version of Google or Apple online stores. The prominent features of this app are a) men receive alerts via SMS if a female family member scans her passport for travel b) Men can change or withdraw permission to travel abroad for female relatives on their whim.
The app has led to abuse of countless Saudi women as they lack any form of agency. Saudi Arabia practices an ultra-conservative idea of Islam wherein women have to seek permission from male relatives to get married or even do simple things like work and travel. This has been termed as the guardianship system which received major criticism from all parts of the world after some women managed to flee the country.
Maha and Wafa al – Subaie are currently under state protection in Georgia, a former Soviet Republic. They had to steal their father’s phone and give themselves permission to travel to Istanbul on Absher in order to escape according to Evening Standard. They have been active on their shared Twitter handle @GeorgiaSisters2 to draw attention to their plight. This was one of the tweets on 22nd April –
We were forced to flee our homes & leave everything behind. It's not a choice. Saudi laws don't protect women or children from domestic violence. We risk our lives everyday by staying in Georgia where our entire tribe can find us. We don't want to keep looking over our shoulders. pic.twitter.com/c0uq2yp4dm
— Maha & Wafa al-Subaie (@GeorgiaSisters2) April 22, 2019
They have appealed to the UN to transfer them to a third safe country. United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that she had asked tech companies in Silicon Valley “tough questions” this month about the “threats” posed by apps like Absher which allow Saudi men to restrict women’s movement. “Technology can, and should, be all about progress. But the hugely invasive powers that are being unleashed may do incalculable damage if there are not sufficient checks in place to respect human rights,” she said in a statement as reported by Evening Standard.
The inhuman treatment of women in Saudi Arabia has come to the world’s attention after a Saudi teen, Rahaf managed to fly to Thailand and locked herself in a hotel room pleading for help on twitter. She was granted asylum by Canada. There is a similar case of two sisters being granted visa’s in Hong Kong on humanitarian grounds. There has also been an incident of 11 women activists being tortured in jail for questioning the rule of the land as reported by The Guardian.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been viewed as relatively progressive after he lifted the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia and he has shown intent to end the guardian system but not taken any steps in that direction as of yet.
The Logical Indian take
While we hope the Georgia, Sisters find a safe haven where they are out of harm’s way, it is also imperative for multinationals like Google and Apple to understand their social responsibility and not let technology become a means for oppression. By banning such apps, they will send a strong message to the Saudi Government and help reduce the impact of the regressive guardianship system.