Last fall, Postdoctoral Research Fellow Adelina Iftene kicked off what I hoped would be a series of guest posts featuring the work of graduate and postdoctoral scholars at Osgoode who are engaging with feminist perspectives (see Adelina’s post here). In this second guest post, I’m very pleased to introduce PhD student Loujayn Alhokail, who studies the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia through a lens of legal consciousness.
Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia it is legally required that Saudi women, of all ages, must have male guardians. Under this legal rule, women are not allowed to travel, continue their education, or have access to certain medical procedures without the consent of their male guardians. Theoretically, women are allowed to have access to most of their other rights that are recognized by the state. However, in reality, the guardianship rule is one part of a multi layered system of laws, policies, and traditions that, combined, puts most of women’s legally recognized rights under the discretion of their male guardians. Such system includes policies such as the ban on women’s driving and gender segregation.
The male guardianship system is historically supported by traditional interpretations of Islamic texts that Saudi Arabia recognizes. Saudi Arabia, as an Islamic state, gains its political legitimacy from enforcing Islamic law, and thus, according to traditional interpretations, enforcing male guardianship over women. The reality is that the male guardianship system is based on very narrow interpretations of Islamic texts. Furthermore, the existence of the male guardianship system causes many negative effects for women. Some Saudi women are unable to access some of their basic Islamic law rights that are recognized by the state because of cultural obstacles that are supported by this system. Such rights include access to marriage, divorce, and inheritance.
Witnessing some of the recent changes that the Saudi state is leading in favor of women’s rights, and observing how the state is limited in its ability to enforce fundamental changes in favor of Saudi women’s rights, have encouraged me to analyze some of the historical and socio-political reasons underlying women’s disadvantaged status in the Kingdom. My current research focuses on the cultural context that leads to normalizing and legitimizing the male guardianship system through a legal consciousness lens. Most Saudi citizens shape their legal consciousness under a culture that explicitly supports the existence of the male guardianship system. In this research, I am particularly interested in the individual experiences that have shaped the legal consciousness of citizens who recognize the negative effects of this system. By analyzing these experiences, I am hoping to move the male guardianship system debate forward while aiming to unblock social change in favour of Saudi women’s rights.
I am currently a Ph.D. student at Osgoode Hall Law, York University. I earned my law degree from King Saud University, Saudi Arabia. I have since then completed my LL.M. in law at Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University where my Thesis looked at the use of marriage contracts to hasten the wheel of change in favor of Saudi women’s rights. I am hoping to use the knowledge that I gain in Canada to help strengthen legal education in Saudi Arabia.