Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to travel outside the country unless their mahram — male guardian — allows them to do so. The guardian my be a husband, a father, uncle, brother, or even adult male child. For many, granting permission is not enough. They demand that the male guardian accompany the female.

Putting aside the control aspect of this requirement, the simple logistics of it make it an exceptionally complicated matter. What if the mahram can’t travel at that time due to work obligations or health issues? Should the male be excused from work in order to accompany his wife or daughter so that she can do her work? What about the added expense? At a minimum, there will be twice the airfare.

The control factor, though, is also a real issue. A brother can prevent his sister from traveling for whatever reason, including bad reasons. A family tiff can result in lost business opportunities or even the loss of a job.

Saudi Gazette interviews a variety of Saudis, primarily women, on their views…

Calls mount for easing of ‘mahram’ curbs
Mariam Nihal | Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Many women living in the Kingdom who spoke to Saudi Gazette said they felt traveling laws should be flexible enough to take account of emergencies and cases of a male guardian’s absence.

Saudi law dictates that women cannot travel without their male guardian’s (mahram’s) permission and in some cases can only travel with them. Saudi and foreign women living in the Kingdom who wish to travel are often tied down by the “mahram” rule.

Aisha Mahmoud, a 48-year-old Pakistani widow and a mother of four living in Jeddah, said, “Laws are just walls put up for women. Anytime I want to go back to my country I have to rely on my son who is only 21 years old and is my official guardian to give me permission to travel. It is disturbing and sometimes he makes it look like a favor. I am a woman and a homemaker who looks after these children. I feel handicapped and ashamed to ask him for permission to be honest. I should have the right to decide when I want to leave.”


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