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Apps’ role in suppressing women

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editorial cartoon by Danielle De Luna

Saudi Arabian women are seeking asylum from oppressive guardianship laws, and companies like Apple and Google are contributing to their lack of safety by refusing to remove the Absher app from their app stores.

Absher is a Saudi government app that allows users to access e-services like passport updates, according to The Ministry of the Interior of Saudi Arabia’s official web page.

However, under the male guardianship system, men have authority over women’s personal life decisions, according to the BBC. This allows men to access the passport accounts and services of women under their list of dependents, giving them the authority to suspend their ability to cross borders.

The Absher app helps men who hold guardianship over women to track their movement across borders to prevent their departures just as Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun’s father did when Alqunun fled to Bangkok, Thailand.

Alqunun fled Saudi Arabia in early January to escape these oppressive guardianship laws, but was stopped in Bangkok by an agent of the Saudi consulate. Her passport was suspended, and she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room, demanding the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees come to assess her case for asylum processing. Alqunun was granted asylum to Canada a week later, after her pleas for help were publicized on Twitter.

However, not all Saudi women are able to escape. After attempting to seek asylum in Australia, Dina Ali’s passport was suspended and she was deported back to Saudi Arabia.

Despite women coming forward to protest their treatment under the Saudi government and Absher’s connection to oppressive restrictions preventing women from escaping, Google sustains that the app does not violate the terms of service, according to Insider.

Apple has not yet responded to demands for the app to be removed. Action is imperative if tech companies want to maintain their reputations and take a stand against perpetuating oppressive ordinances that hinder the freedom of women across the globe.

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