Meet the Saudi men fighting for women’s rights

In Riyadh, activists tagged this wall with the phrase “We demand the end to the system of guardianship over women”. Photo published on Twitter.
In Riyadh, activists tagged this wall with the phrase “We demand the end to the system of guardianship over women”. Photo published on Twitter.

In Saudi Arabia, women are treated like legal minors. If they want to travel abroad, get married, work or access healthcare, they need the authorisation of a man, usually their husband or a male relative. For the past few weeks, a campaign demanding the end to the “legal guardianship” system has been widely shared on social media. And it isn’t just women pushing for their rights…

The international NGO Human Rights Watch launched the campaign last July. “Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system remains the most significant impediment to women’s rights in the country,” the NGO said, emphasising that a Saudi woman needs the authorisation of a male relative (father, husband, brother or sometimes even son) for almost everything, including renting an apartment or doing bank transactions. Furthermore, women are denied basic rights like driving a car.

Many Saudi women have been supporting the campaign by tweeting using the hashtag #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship.

A Saudi woman holds up a sign saying “I am not underage”.


Some activists have even tagged buildings in the Saudi capital with demands to end the male guardianship system.

But it isn’t only Saudi women participating in this campaign: there have been a few men openly showing their support for women’s rights as well.

“The role of a mother is to shape future generations. How can you do that when you are treated as if you were underage?”

Our team contacted to several Saudi men who are participating in the campaign. These men think that treating women equally would benefit the whole of Saudi society.

"The men who support the guardianship system are insecure and can’t stand being shown up by a woman”

Nazzar al-Barraq is a human rights activist. He says that the male guardianship system is similar to slavery.

Our society reminds me of a body that is partially paralyzed. It is as if we amputated part of the nation. As long as Saudi women aren’t allowed to enjoy their basic rights, we will never perform as well as developed nations.

The men who support this male guardianship system are insecure and can’t stand being shown up by a woman. When Saudi women aren’t marginalised and treated as second-class citizens, they can achieve amazing things.

Just consider researcher Adah Almutairi who studied in the United States and went on to become world-renowned in the field of nanomedicine. In Saudi Arabia, there are thousands of women who are just as capable as Almutairi but, unfortunately, their creativity is stifled because of the retrograde system that essentially turns them into slaves. We need to end the male guardianship system and grant women the same rights and responsibilities as men.

I strongly believe that we should pass a law enshrining women’s right. We need to clearly stipulate that a woman should be able to marry who she wants to without needing anyone’s permission. We should also make the legal age of marriage 18 instead of 16.

“The result of this system is that many Saudi women lose their confidence”

Mashaal lives in Riyadh. He spoke out for women’s rights on Twitter.

I support this campaign because I think that it defends a fundamental human right. Women should have the same rights as men and act as their own guardians, just like it states in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The male guardianship system is a legal way to, at best, humiliate women and, at worst, enslave them.

Some religious figures and social media users claim that this campaign is a Zionist plot to destabilise Saudi Arabia. That is just ridiculous. In Saudi Arabia, we are obsessed by conspiracy theories. But we are not so obsessed by human rights.


“A campaign orchestrated by accomplices of the Zionists is currently calling for the liberation of women and an end to the male guardianship system, which was prescribed by God and his prophet for believers”

I am married and I often tell my wife, “I am not your guardian. You are your own master.” I will tell my daughter the same thing when she is older. I try to make the women in my family understand that nothing will stop them from taking their own destiny into their hands.

Many Saudi women end up losing confidence in themselves after years of hearing their fathers, brothers, and husbands tell them that they are inferior and that they are weaker and dumber than men. We need to change that. And that happens with education.