British-Saudi woman allegedly trapped by father in Jeddah

A British judge ruled last Wednesday that dual British-Saudi citizen, Amina Al-Jeffery, must be allowed to return to the UK from Saudi Arabia.  The decision comes after 21-year-old Amina Al-Jeffery claimed that she is being kept in a cage by her father, Mohammed Al-Jeffery

Ms. Al-Jeffery  was born and raised in Swansea, Wales, but was forced to move to Jeddah in 2012 by her father. Mr. Al-Jeffery reportedly disapproved of his daughter’s ‘behaviour and’ started keeping her in a cage in their Jeddah home. According to Ms. Al-Jeffery’s  representation, her father locked her in a bedroom with metal bars on the window, beat her, and deprived her of food and water.

Mr. Al-Jeffery’s lawyer, Marcus Scott-Manderson, denied the allegations against his client before the High Court in London last week. Scott-Manderson told the court that Mr. Al-Jeffery had taken his daughter to Saudi Arabia to “save her life” and believed she was reckless, not doing well in school, and “going to clubs.”

The High Court ruled that Mr. Al-Jeffery “must permit and facilitate the return of Amina if she so wishes to Wales or England and pay the airfare” by 11 September 2016. However, during the hearings, the judge acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing his ruling. There are no reciprocal agreements between the UK and Saudi Arabia, limiting the power of the High Court’s order. Furthermore, Saudi law does not recognize dual citizenship.

Unfortunately, cases like Ms. Al-Jeffery’s are not uncommon in Saudi Arabia, where women and girls are subject to discrimination in law and in practice. The kingdom’s male guardianship system prevents women from obtaining a passport, marrying, traveling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, such as a husband, father, brother, or son. Many institutions call for a guardian’s consent even when not required by law. For example, while  women do not need to obtain consent prior to undergoing medical procedures, many Saudi hospitals demand a guardian’s permission before they admit a woman to the hospital.  As a result, men hold formal and informal authority over their female relatives in nearly all of their interactions with the state.

The Saudi government must address the ruling of the UK High Court and take action to allow Ms. Al-Jeffery to leave the country if she so chooses. Furthermore, it must work to abolish the male guardianship system and reform all policies that result in discrimination based on gender.