As of last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.
Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sherif, who last year urged women to defy a driving ban, said a man had contacted her to say he had received a text from the immigration authorities while at the airport with his wife.
“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said Saudi author and journalist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the kingdom.
“This is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned,” she added.
Under laws influenced by the strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam, women are not allowed to leave Saudi Arabia without permission from their male guardian (a husband, father or brother), who must give consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.
Protests from ordinary Saudis soon appeared on Twitter mocking the decision.
“Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!” read one post.
“Why don’t you cuff your women with tracking ankle bracelets too?” wrote a woman identifying herself as “Israa”.
“If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I’m either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist,” tweeted Hisham.
In June 2011, female activists launched a campaign to defy a driving ban, with many arrested and forced to sign a pledge they will never drive again.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women from driving.
Last year, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections, a historic first for the country.
The myriad restrictions on women have led to high rates of female unemployment, estimated at around 30 per cent.
In October, a justice ministry directive to allow female lawyers who have a law degree and who have spent at least three years working in a lawyer’s office to plead cases in court was published.
But the ruling, which was to take effect this month, has yet to be implemented.