After the publication of a report condemning women's legal subjugation in Saudi Arabia, a Twitter campaign emerged demanding its end. The practice turns grown women into minors under male custody before the law.
For several weeks now, Saudi women have been tweeting hundreds of thousands of messages denouncing the practice of male guardianship.
Guardianship grants full legal control of almost all of a woman’s lifestyle decisions to her closest legal male guardian, whether it’s her father, her husband or, in some cases, her son. This legal status lasts the woman’s whole life.
Saudi women, bloggers and activists have been using the hashtags #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship and #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen to call for reform and to speak about how the practice has affected their lives - from barring them from work or studying to generally depriving them of freedoms men enjoy without hindrance.
The campaign was also propelled by the American NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), which used the hashtag #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship to promote a recently published report denouncing the practice.
HRW's report came with a series of animated videos telling the stories of women whose guardians had abused their already extensive authority.
The report also described the practice of male guardianship as "the most significant impediment to realizing women's rights in the country, effectively rendering adult women legal minors who cannot make key decisions for themselves."
The hashtag campaigns have also elicited a response from those who support male guardianship - most of them men. On Twitter, they used an Arabic hashtag that translates as "Saudi women proud of guardianship," arguing that the practice is enshrined by religious tradition.
One of these users, a university professor called Amerah Saeidi, acknowledged some guardians did overstep their authority but opposed changing the legislation, instead preaching a religious response.
"The abuse and injustice of some guardians cannot be solved with the dropping this law, but by consulting Sharia [law]," he tweeted.
Outside social networks, the campaign has also angered religious officials. The country's most prominent religious figure, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh was quoted by the Saudi daily Okaz as saying that any call to abolish male guardianship constituted a "crime" against Sunni Islam.
Saudi Arabia is frequently berated by human rights advocates and international organizations for severely curtailing women’s rights and liberties.
Though women were granted voting rights for local elections in late 2015, many still needed male guardians to actually reach the ballot box: Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.