Absher, a government-backed mobile app in Saudi Arabia, has come under sharp criticism amid claims that it reinforces the country’s system of male guardianship — which requires women to seek approval for things like traveling and getting a job. Among the app’s many features, which include allowing Saudis to renew their driver’s licenses and request government documents online, it also reportedly gives male users the option of receiving SMS alerts when female “dependents” present their passports at a border, effectively enabling men to track and control women’s movement.
Several rights groups have called on Google and Apple to ensure Absher doesn’t facilitate the abuse of women’s rights, while some have called for it to be removed from their app stores. But many Absher users within Saudi Arabia have come to its defense, saying it’s a productivity tool that saves them hours of bureaucracy and ultimately makes travel easier for many Saudi women.
Absher is a free mobile app launched by the Saudi government in 2015. Available on the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, Absher is described as “the official individuals eServices Mobile Application that provide the services of Absher portal in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” and is listed under the “Productivity” category on both sites. The name Absher roughly translates to “good tidings” or “yes, done,” in Arabic. Users can use the app to complete day-to-day tasks such as checking their mail, registering vehicles, booking government appointments and applying for visas.