Eleven women are on trial in Saudi Arabia this week, charged with lobbying for women’s right to drive and for abolishing the system of male guardianship over women. Under the male guardianship system, Saudi women are still treated as legal minors. They are assigned a male guardian, who has to approve their applying for a passport, travelling outside the country, studying abroad on a government scholarship, getting married, leaving prison, or even exiting a shelter for abuse victims, according to the BBC.
The male guardianship system drew renewed international attention in January, when a young Saudi woman, Rahaf Mohammed, barricaded herself in a hotel room in Bangkok, and said that her family would have her imprisoned if she returned to Saudi Arabia. She eventually found asylum in Canada.
The women have been imprisoned for 10 months without access to legal counsel, and only learned of the charges against them when they were recently brought before the Criminal Court of Riyadh.
According to the Wall Street Journal, prosecutors charged the women activists, who include Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Amal al-Harbi, Dr. Ruqayyah al-Mharib, Nouf Abdulziaz, Maya’a al-Zahrani, Shadan al-Anezi, Dr. Abir Namankni, Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi and another female activist, with having broken Saudi law, “By taking foreign money to work against the kingdom and communicated with an enemy country and enemy media”.