Internet furor over ‘tracking’ of Saudi women leads to questions about Qatar’s kafala system

A Twitter row sparked by news that Saudi male guardians are now being sent automatic text messages when female relatives leave the country has led to questions about Qatar’s own sponsorship system.

Bayan Perazzo, a university lecturer specializing in Middle East politics and Islamic studies, explains that a Saudi couple discovered the new system when they left the country on holiday:

“After the couple left Saudi Arabia, they were surprised by a text message sent to the husband’s phone from the Saudi Ministry of Interior informing him of the time and airport from which his ‘dependent’ wife had left the Kingdom,” she writes in an article for thewebsite Muftah, which aims to provide open debate about issues in the Middle East region. 

She argues, however, that it is not KSA’s new SMS system that people should be upset about, but rather the country’s guardianship system:

“Human Rights Watch released an in-depth report about the guardianship system in early 2008, urging the country to end the practice and stating that ‘the Saudi government has sacrificed basic human rights to maintain male control over women,’ ” she said.

On Twitter, the kingdom’s new SMS system prompted questions about Qatar’s kafala system, with residents pointing out that a similar system is already in place here:

Under the free system Metrash, Qatar residents can register to receive SMS notifications about new traffic violations and residence permit and driving licence expiry dates.

Rules for expats

Although not noted on the website, these notifications also include issues relating to individuals under a person’s sponsorship, meaning that a husband who sponsors his family in Qatar will receive a text message every time the his wife or children enter or leave the country. The same holds true for female expats who sponsor their husbands.

The rules of the kafala system also dictate that dependent expat wives must obtain their husband’s permission to open a bank account, get a driving licence or apply for a labor card. The same rules generally apply to men sponsored by their wives, although it appears that men do not need permission to open their own bank account. Wives and children do not require an exit permit to leave the country unaccompanied, however, whereas husbands sponsored by their wives do. 

In September this year, the government launched mobile phone app Metrash 2, which allows exit permits to be issued through smart phones. 

The service is open to anyone with a smart ID card.

Metrash is currently only available to Qtel subscribers, although Vodafone is in talks with the Ministry of Interior to also introduce the service. 

Rules for locals

Saudi Arabian women must always receive permission from a male guardian to leave the country.

Unmarried Qatari women under the age of 25 also require an exit permit from a male relative if they wish to travel, but once they are married or over the age of 25, this is no longer required.

Qatari men who are over the age of 18 do not need an exit permit to leave Qatar.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by MyNameHere

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