An app created by Saudi lawyer Nasreen Issa, available on both iPhone and Android, has been providing information on the rights of the women of Saudi Arabia. Called “Know Your Rights,” the app provides an informative introductory video on basic rights, then transitions to useful pages that can help women navigate the country’s legal system.
Saudi Arabia has been internationally notorious for its limited women’s rights, even compared to its conservative neighboring countries. Saudi women are prohibited from many freedoms, from working with men to driving a car. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), only 18.6 percent of the national workforce is made up of native women—and when foreign workers are statistically accounted for, this number drops to as low as 6.1 percent. In comparison, other Muslim countries such as United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have over 40 percent of female involvement in the workforce. Saudi women, treated like minors, need a male guardian’s permission in order to rent, marry, travel, or even leave prison.
One might expect that, in a country where women have such limited freedoms, women are acutely aware of the few rights they do possess. In fact, it’s the opposite: with so many restrictions, and with a general cultural acceptance of women’s low place, even the most educated women are unaware of their rights. Many of Saudi Arabia’s laws rely on sharia, or Islamic religious law, and the system is traditional in many ways. Even in the processes they are granted, women are not aware of the steps necessary in legal matters such as divorce, and judges are unwilling to explain the process when approached.
Nasreen Issa’s app works to make these situations easier. The app covers topics such as intellectual property and job hunting, and outlines how to file a lawsuit in defense of one’s rights. When filing a lawsuit in Saudi Arabia, one must draw a map of where the other party is located. Subsequently, “Know Your Rights” bears a feature connected to Google Maps that allows women to locate the person they’re suing and print the map.
Videos within the app explain how to file a lawsuit, and the app includes templates for lawsuits as well. Another icon within the app allows users to contact a directory of volunteer Saudi lawyers, such as Issa herself, who receive around 47 calls a day from women who need consultations. Her help is not just to Saudi residents—even foreigners married to Saudis have reached out to her for advice.
“Know Your Rights” has had up to 50,000 downloads in the past, but this number has recently dipped to 30,000. Issa is trying to figure out why women are downloading and uninstalling the app, when it is both legal and free. She hopes to see it expand in usage and popularity in the future, and she also hopes that the government will improve the rights of its female constituents.
Slowly but surely, the nation has been making more progress, recently allowing women to vote in local elections and to access healthcare and education without a guardian. Saudi Arabia recently gained seat on the United Nations Women’s Commission this spring. “That’s going to make them want to show results,” said Issa.
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