A Saudi mobile app has recently come under fire for facilitating the oppression of Saudi women. The app was inspired by Saudi Arabia’s strict “guardianship laws,” which hold that every Saudi woman must have a male “guardian,” regardless of age, education level, or marital status; this person has the ultimate say in a variety of life choices and activities such as enrolling in school, opening a bank account, working outside of the home, and getting a passport, among others.
Launched in 2015 by the Saudi government, the app called Ashber (which translates to “yes sir”) allows men to keep tabs on women under their guardianship by alerting the guardian whenever the woman passes through an airport. Ashber also makes it easier for guardians to revoke women’s right to travel. The app also has broader functionalities that can be used by Saudi nationals for a range of purposes, like paying traffic tickets and applying for new identification cards.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is seeking to remove the app from the Google Play store and Apple’s app store, claiming it encourages gender discrimination. “It’s hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women,” he wrote in a letter, “but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy.”
While Saudi Arabia has recently eased some of its restrictions on women, such as lifting the ban on women driving, critics believe the country can’t truly achieve equality until the guardianship laws are erased.
Hala Aldosary, a US-based Saudi scholar and activist, believes Google and Apple can send a strong message. “If the tech companies would say, ‘you are being oppressive,’ that would mean a lot.”
While no official statement has been made by either company, both are reviewing the app.