RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has suspended a program that notifies the male guardians of female relatives, who may only travel abroad with their permission, once the women leave the country, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
Since November 2012, Saudi women's male guardians have been sent an SMS message informing them when women under their custody leave, even if they are travelling together.
The program, which was strongly criticized by women rights activists, "has been suspended due to some observations," passports department spokesman Ahmad al-Laheedan was quoted by Arab News as saying.
"It will undergo amendment," he said, indicating that the system that compounded constraints on women in the ultra-conservative kingdom, could return as optional. Men would only receive an SMS if they requested to be informed.
As it is, women must show immigration authorities a "yellow paper" signed by their father, brother, husband or even son in the case of divorce or widowhood confirming their permission to travel.
Activists welcomed the suspension of the SMS program.
"The notification process should have never been introduced in the first place because it is humiliating for women," said Sabria Jawhar, a Saudi columnist and university professor of applied linguistics.
"We are responsible adults but are treated as immature or less responsible," she told Arab News.
The kingdom enforces strict rules governing mixing between the sexes, while women are forced to wear a veil and a black cloak, or abaya, that covers them from head to toe except for their hands and faces.
Women also face the globally unique ban on driving, and those who have attempted in the past to defy the ban, have been punished.