I’m Not My Mom’s Guardian

Last year, I drove with my family to Qatar to see the Museum of Islamic Arts that was recently opened in Doha. On the Saudi border, the conversation went something like this:

Customs officer: who is the woman with you?
Me: that’s my mother.
CO: where is her travel permit?
Me: why does she need a travel permit? She is traveling with me, her eldest son, and as you can see my two little brothers are in the back seat as well.
CO: okay, but you still need to show a travel permit for her.
Me: she is traveling with me. You think she would travel with me without my permission?
CO: these are the rules.
Me: well, I don’t have a travel permit for her.
CO: I will let you go this time, but next time you have to bring a travel permit if she is to travel with you or you can’t cross the border.
Me: okay. Thank you.

We have not traveled outside the country since then, but my mom has been nagging me to get a travel permit so we don’t have to go through this next time we are about to go somewhere. I have been putting that off, partly because I’m lazy, but more importantly because of my despise to the male guardianship system. I do not believe that my mother needs my permission to travel, or do anything she wants for that matter. My mom is an adult woman who is capable of making her own decision. I am not her guardian. I simply reject this notion.

But my politically motivated procrastination came to an end yesterday, as I went to the passports department here in Hofuf to get the damn paper.

Me: I would like to get a travel permit for my mother, please.
Passport officer: can you show me the Family ID card?
Me: I don’t have a Family ID. My father has passed away. Here is my ID card. Here is also a paper from the court to prove that I’m the eldest son.
PO: Is Bebi your sister?
Me: No, she is my mother.

The officer took a glance at the papers. He signed the travel permit and stamped it, and gave it to me along my mom’s passport and the other papers. I was glad that it did not take long, but I left the building with mixed feelings. In one hand I felt ashamed because although I hate the male guardianship system, I had to accept it and practice it like this. I felt as if I was a complicit in a crime. On the other hand, what could I have done? Backward and ridiculous as it is, in the end this is the system which governs us and you have to deal with it. Refusing to deal with it would only make life more difficult for mom, and everyone else.

Saudi Arabia has signed CEDAW, with two reservations. But as with all of these sorts of treaties, there is no mechanism to force the government to abide by its protocols, especially that some people in the country still see this as a huge international conspiracy to change our social and religious values.

22 thoughts on “I’m Not My Mom’s Guardian

  1. It seems you did the most reasonable thing, which is to give your mother the maximum autonomy you are permitted to do within the system.

    This relieves both of you of border scenes, and frees you to work to change th system from within the law.

  2. Hey Ahmed …
    Sometimes we just have to go with the flow, so things never stop rolling. I can understand how the guardianship concept can be really difficult when applied to mothers. After all, are we really in a position to tell our mothers what and what not to do!!!

    All in all, I believe our ill understanding of the guardianship concept is the problem; not the concept itself.

      • sorry forgive me If I am rude…. But honestly I used to think saudis since they speak one of the finest arabic understand Islam better and understand the wisdom behind sharia’h laws… thought i dont like many things about your government, and I also dont know how much of such things are in accordance with the sharia’h…I do understand perhaps forcing sharia’h in a world where muslims dont even have right islamic mind set is a bit harsh on some people….

        but however my point is How can a ‘son’ feel ashamed to take responsibility of his mother? subhanAllah…
        Islam makes it a duty on the men to protect the women and provide them with security— then why are you taking it the way orientalist or western media takes– that giving sons or husbands responsibility means taking away freedom from the women.

  3. Welcome to adulthood. You are right to feel a bit ashamed about the guardian system but you did need to step up and help your mother.

  4. It’s interesting to me how many men are actually resentful of the restrictions placed on us women too. They get sick of having to cart us around everywhere and process paperwork. Obviously, the women will not be the only ones cheering loudly if and when these laws change!

  5. You did the right thing. It’s an insane ruling but you can’t change it on your own.
    I didn’t know a mother would still need a stamped travel permit even if her ”master” was with her?!?!

  6. whenever i look at my travel permit, my stomach turns. i had to renew our passports (i fill the forms, my dad files them) and it downright disgusts me how my guardian is the one to sign the little consent on MY form.

  7. same thing, me and my mom going to Bahrain, my mm owns the car.

    the custom officer asked for paper that would allow me to drive the car, I told him, my mother own it, and she is right here!

    i would come across some passport officer asking my mom for her permit, she is above the age of 52, she does not require permit anymore, but depends on the officers mood, most thing I hate when they let you go, as if the did you a huge favor.

    it will change, but not in my life time >.<

  8. I think you did the right thing even if it feels wrong because you respected your mom’s wishes to get the permit.

  9. “a huge international conspiracy to change our social and religious values.”

    Well, it is, really. Some of those social values, such as guardianship, are just so crazy that everyone outside SA is laughing at you.

  10. That’s totally off the topic; but I just think Bebi is a beautiful name that makes me nostalgic and i feel sad when i realize it’s disappearing. God bless her and Allah y5leeha till she witnesses a day where the guardian will be a funny memory : )

  11. problem my friend is not how you feel about things in this country ,i used to be burdened with a great deal of sympathy for women thinking they were repressed and deprived turned out they’re as delusional as men are !! and guess what ? they don’t need our liberal sympathy they’re just fine !

  12. Many comment here all say you did the right and only thing you could have done. But did you really?

    You could have done more. I hate to bring up the comparison, but look at most progressive societies. How did women gain the freedoms that they have today? Submission is the ultimate approval. By saying nothing you approve of the system. Im not here to say that you should have gone in and protested or even not gotten that travel document for your mother. But your conversation should have included at least some sense of disapproval. I feel that one of the biggest difficulties to overcome in Saudi is not the with the actual rules or social order, but the fact that Saudis complain all the time behind closed doors, but when faced with a situation, they keep their mouths shut. Change will never happen if no one feels there is a need. A need will only occur when people begin to actively show their dissatisfaction.

    “When truth is replaced by silence,the silence is a lie.”

    • that is true. progressive societies(such as in the west) now makes it for women a choice- free will to become sex toys.

      and then in the eastern hemisphere of the world you have outright backwardness

      at the end of the day.. women are getting oppressed.. in some places by the businesses, media, unhealthy values— and in some other places by oppressive regimes, men in power, etc etc

      I dont see much improvement unless in those who stood up for themselves.

  13. What social and religious values? These rules are simply oppression tools for the ruling people. A deeply unpleasant way to humiliate all women and in the process the men in her family.

  14. this only shows that you are a grown up man, who loves your mom and being the responsible man after your father. each and everyone of us has this little things that we really do not want to push or make, but at the end of the day, for our family, we’ll do everything. kudos to you, and saudimajix is right…….it’s not now, but it will be, soon…..

  15. Your Mom can count herself very lucky to have a son who sees women as human beings with dignity. Unfortunately, lots of people become control freaks, if placed in a position of authority, for example as male members of a family in a patriarchal society. Thank you so much for this inspiring article! I find it incredibly inspiring, because I see so much goodness and respect for women (who are human beings, after all) in it. If all the people of Saudi Arabia shared your attitude, women would be free and a lot happier. Your article is a glance of hope in an ocean of darkness. Let’s hope that this ocean will become shiny and bright one day.

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