Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, is in the United Kingdom this week to meet two female leaders: Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Theresa May. He will see for himself that women have as much to contribute to public life as men.
In Saudi Arabia, governed by Shariah (Islamic law), a woman must live under the authority of a male guardian, her wali al-amr. The Quran (4:34) says, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more [strength] than the other, and because they support them from their means.” The General Presidency for Scholarly Research, an official body in charge of Islamic legal opinion, has issued a fatwa construing the verse strictly: “A woman should not leave her house, except with her husband’s permission.”
Saudi women do not have freedom of movement and never become fully independent legal persons. Regardless of age, they need permission from a male guardian to travel overseas, apply for a passport, marry, or be released from prison. The guardian is usually a woman’s father or husband, but can also be a brother, cousin or even son. Imagine the humiliation of a middle-aged woman having to ask a young son’s approval for important and mundane life decisions.