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Saudi “guardianship laws” are very strict and controversial giving every woman a male “guardian” who can affect her life and make decisions about her movement, medical procedures, etc. This practice has been backed up by a Saudi mobile application called Absher. It allows men to track and restrict the movements of women in the kingdom. Now this application has come under increased scrutiny with an American senator and rights groups urging Apple and Google to remove it from their platforms, accusing these companies of facilitating gender discrimination. The app was launched in 2015 by the Saudi government and it allowed men to give or revoke women’s right to travel through airports, tracking them by their identity documents and through notifications which could be turned on or off.
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, demanded in a letter directed to Apple and Google to pull Absher from their platforms. “It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy,” Mr. Wyden wrote in the letter, as The New York Times reports. Mr Wyden addressed Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, the chief executive officers of Apple and Google, and said the companies were “making it easier for Saudi men to control their family members from the convenience of their smartphones and restrict their movement.” He requested that they prevent their companies from “being used by the Saudi government to enable the abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
As New York Post reports, neither Cook nor Pichai have made an official statement. However, when informed of the app in an NPR interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook, said he hadn’t heard of it but “obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case.” Also a Google spokesman confirmed that the company is assessing the app to determine if it is in accordance with its policies
The Absher app is an online portal where both men and women can access a range of government services, from paying traffic tickets to applying for new identification cards. The control of women is just another of its function which is in accordance with the kingdom’s laws. Saudi women have been required to obtain permission from a father or a husband to leave the country for decades, but the entire process was done with paper forms. Absher has made the process far more convenient for men and maybe added yet another level of tracking and repression for women.