Monday, March 04, 2019

Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia And Google

In Saudi Arabia, women must have the permission of their male guardians (father, husband, brother, uncle or adult son) to travel.  A Saudi government app allows those men additional control over their subordinate women.  And Google will not remove the much-criticized app:

Google has declined to remove from its app store a Saudi government app which lets men track women and control where they travel, on the grounds that it meets all their terms and conditions.
Google reviewed the app — called Absher — and concluded that it does not violate any agreements, and can therefore remain on the Google Play store.
Absher is intended to make all sorts of routine government-related tasks easier for Saudis.  But those tasks include, for example, the ability for women's guardians to give or rescind their travel permissions. And Absher allows men to receive SMS alerts if the women under their control try to use their passports.

It also makes it harder for women such as Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun (or Al-Qunun) to run away from their families.  Alqunun fled her family while they were vacationing in Kuwait.  She took a flight to Bangkok, using her passport,  and tried to continue from there to Australia.

Alqunun, eighteen at the time, claimed that her family abused her and kept forcing her to accept an unwanted marriage proposal.  For a while Thai officials tried to deport her back to her family still in Kuwait.  After all, that was the correct procedure under Saudi laws which keep women eternal minors.

But she barricaded herself in her hotel room, fought back, and finally got asylum in Canada.  Other Saudi women trying to run away from their families have not been as fortunate.

The wider questions cases like this one raise are important.  They are about the rights of various cultures to enforce their own values, perhaps even beyond their own geographical borders, about whether human rights are universal values or whether they can vary depending on what particular cultures (or their rulers, more likely) decide they should be,* and what responsibility "outsiders," such as Google here, should bear for the choices they make.

As I have written before, if we respect all cultures as equal and their values as something that outsiders shouldn't comment on, then we wipe out the rights of weaker individuals under oppressive cultures.  The Amish Supreme Court case in the US is one example of an attempt to consider the rights of cultures to thrive vs. the rights of individuals within those cultures to thrive.

*  And women's rights are human rights.  It's also true that pretty much all cultures on this globe have historically limited women's rights, and in that sense the lack of those rights can well be viewed as part of the heritage of many cultures.  This does not make such limitations worth respecting.