Read the letter from Wajeha Al-Huwaider to President Obama, asking him to raise women's rights on his trip to Saudi Arabia. She complains of a legal system of male guardianship in which women cannot take any actions without male oversight. Women, e.g., cannot travel or receive medical care without male authorization--sometimes even an adult is required to have authorization from a sixteen-year-old son.
Al-Huwaider compares her experience to the birds in the Gulf of Mexico who are so covered with oil that they have difficulty flying. These birds can hardly move: they have no control over their lives, and they cannot fly freely to go to a place where they can feel safe. So too with Saudi women who are not free to exercise control over their lives and are treated like children requiring guardians even though they are mature adults.
David Keyes criticized Obama's conduct in Saudi Arabia, adding to Al-Huwaider's letter the story of Um Hasan, a Saudi mother of six, [who] is not being allowed to divorce her abusive and drug-addicted husband. The reason? She appeared in court without a male guardian, so the judge refused to see her. “I have medical certificates from Makkah’s King Abdulaziz Hospital proving I have been physically abused,” Um Hasan said, “but the judge has refused to even look at them because I had no male guardian with me.” Meanwhile Obama negotiated a big arms deal with the Saudis while remaining silent on women's rights.
Robert L. Bernstein, the founding chairman emeritus of Human Rights Watch makes a great point: “It is almost ludicrous that with our own secretary of State being a woman, the rights of women are not center stage on any meeting between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”