Arab women want male guardianship

Britain has called for the abolition of the Saudi system of male guardianship for women, but have the women themselves been asked what they want?

Veiled women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia  521 (photo credit: REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser )
Veiled women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 521
(photo credit: REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser )
In a recent editorial, The Washington Post claimed that Saudi Arabia is not driving freedoms forward and as such, Britain has called for the abolition of the Saudi system of male guardianship for women.
This raises some important questions: Does Britain know that this system is built on Islamic rules? If it does know, doesn't its call represent interference in the beliefs of others and an attempt to impose Western moral views on other peoples? Does Britain know that this system exists in other Muslim countries, such as Egypt? If it knows, why has it confined its call on Saudi Arabia? And finally, do The Washington Post and Britain ask Saudi women if they like this system and whether or not they want it?
I, with the help of my Saudi former students at Al-Lith College for Girls (Um Al-Qura University, Mecca), conducted an opinion poll for nearly 8,402 Saudi women (from the different walks of life) to know whether they support the system of male guardianship or oppose it. Furthermore, I asked my sister in Egypt to help me run a survey of about 5, 442 Egyptian women regarding this issue.
The results of both questionnaires revealed that 90 percent of Saudi and Egyptian women support the system of male guardianship. This was not a surprise to me, but it may be a surprise for many Western people who argue that such a system cripples women's freedoms and rights.
But has anybody heard about the terrible incident that happened in the eastern area of Riyadh several weeks ago? A Saudi girl, who was on her way to school, was sexually assaulted by five men, who then kidnapped and killed her. The Saudi police arrested three of the perpetrators, but the other two are still free. This girl was not the first or last victim; many victims have been reported. A few days ago, a similar incident occurred in the same area.
A Saudi girl told me that a woman cannot make a daytime visit to her neighbor unless she has a guardian to go with her.
Another said that while she was shopping recently, the shop assistant wrote his phone number on a piece of paper and put it in the bag.The girl's mother noticed, thought her daughter knew about it and kept rebuking her innocent girl, who, as she told me, went into depression. The girl said: ''It was a clothes shop, and when we returned to our house, we discovered that the clothes are small; but neither my mother nor I dared to go back to that shop; and I hated going shopping again [sic].'' Many Saudi and Egyptian girls have confirmed to me that they feel safe when they have guardians and that this system doesn't stifle their freedom. No one can deny that many incidents of sexual harassment have occurred even inside public squares like that of Tahrir in Egypt. And thanks to some good people, some victims were saved.
Sexual harassment may occur even when a girl has a guardian, so think what would happened if she hasn't one. If Britain wants Islamic countries to drop the system of male guardianship, they should first ask Arab women.
The writer is an Egyptian artist and a PhD student.