Saudi Arabia has just turned 79. Relatively young, but old enough to know that it is morally disgraceful to treat women like children.

The country that sits on the world’s largest oil reserves is the only one that denies half its population the right to drive. Saudi women cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot be treated in a hospital or travel without the written permission of a male guardian, cannot study the same things men do and are barred from certain professions.

To mark her country’s birthday, Saudi women’s rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider wants you to write to women in your government and urge them to pressure the Saudi government to end the system of male guardianship of women in Saudi Arabia. Consider it a campaign to finally let Saudi women grow up.

“I do believe free people around the world can help a lot to make women’s lives in Saudi Arabia better,” al-Huwaider said.

She asks that you also write letters, via Saudi embassies, addressed to Saudi King Abdullah — who many Saudis believe is a reformer but whose hands are tied by conservative members of the royal family and clerics.

The guardianship system basically puts a male relative in charge of women’s lives. Imagine the humiliation of an adult woman needing the permission of a man — at times much younger than her — to do the most basic of things, such as being admitted into a hospital. Almost 60 per cent of university students in Saudi Arabia are women — so it’s not a question of capability.

Some women are “lucky” enough to have male relatives who do not abuse the system. Their male relatives, for example, sign a letter granting unlimited permission to travel.

But why subject women to the whims of men and officials?

In 2008, al-Huwaider produced two video clips directly challenging Saudi Arabia’s misogyny.

One featured her driving as she addressed an open letter to the country’s interior minister asking him to lift the ban on driving and offering to teach Saudi women how to drive.

The other one protested the lack of women on Saudi Arabia’s Olympic teams and criticizing the ban on girls and women from sports in the kingdom’s state-owned schools and universities, saying it had contributed to an obesity problem.

Just look at Saudi Arabia’s neighbours to see that its outrageous treatment of women has nothing to do with Islam but more with its own customs. And listen to Wajeha al-Huwaider to understand that there are Saudi women courageously fighting for their rights and who deserve our support.

Send those “birthday cards!”

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