Women Are Trying To Flee Saudi Arabia, And This App Is Standing In Their Way


Matt M. Miller Contributor
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The Saudi Arabian government has developed and launched an app called “Absher” which includes functions for male guardians to track and restrict women from traveling outside of the country.

The app was developed by the Saudi Arabian National Information Center, and has served as a national online portal and database, containing vast information on Saudi citizens as well as providing many normal and useful functions such as vehicle services, crime reporting, appointment booking, etc.

However, one alarming function that Absher provides is the ability for Saudi male guardians to monitor and restrict the travel of females they have “social jurisdiction” over, such as wives, daughters, and sisters. (RELATED: Saudi Teen Defector Uses Social Media To Avoid Being Deported Back To Her Family)

A list of Absher’s services found on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior website explicitly listed the following services:

  • “Travel Permit for Dependents”
  • “Authorize to receive arrived female workers”
  • “Receive Arrived Female Authorization Inquiry”

According to Insider, Absher is a very useful tool for men seeking to repress the mobility of the females they have guardianship over.

The Absher system — little-discussed in Western media — contains a log of women in Saudi Arabia and the means to bar them from travel or catch them trying to leave without permission.

Many of Absher’s functions are benign and would not be out of place in any local or national government online portal. You can use it to pay parking fines or renew a driver’s license.

Vitally, Saudi men can also use this site to specify when and where women are allowed to fly out of the country and grant or revoke travel permission with a few clicks, rendering specific airports or destinations off-limits.

Men can also enable an automatic SMS feature, which texts them when a woman uses her passport at a border crossing or airport check-in.

A reported 1,000 women attempt to flee Saudi Arabia each year, and according to experts, many of these attempts are thwarted by text alerts sent to male guardians from the Absher system.

Women who are successful in fleeing often must find ways to access their male guardian’s phone to deactivate the app or change its settings so it won’t alarm them when they reach the border. (RELATED: Saudi Men Can No Longer Divorce Their Wives Without Telling Them As The Kindom Turns To Tech For The Answer)

The recent high profile case of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun’s escape from Saudi Arabia has brought the Absher program as well as Saudi male guardianship laws under a new global scrutiny.

Alqunun successfully used social media and google to orchestrate her escape, leading a viral Twitter campaign to foster global support for her fight against deportation from Thailand back to Saudi Arabia, eventually being granted asylum in Canada.