Saudi women can freely apply for a passport and travel without a male's consent
3 August 2019| Last updated on 7 August 2019
A giant leap for women in Saudi...
On August 2, Saudi Arabia loosened the Saudi male guardianship laws and published new laws that allow all male and female citizens over the age of 21 to apply for a passport and travel independently.
The new law will go into effect by the end of August, ending a long-standing policy controlling Saudi women's freedom of movement.
Previously, as per the kingdom's regulations, women are required to have a man's consent to get a passport or travel abroad. The permission would have come from a male guardian, which could be her father, husband, and in some cases her son. This legal system has long been criticized by Saudis and internationally because it treated adult women as minors.
This landmark reform includes other sweeping changes such as allowing women to register a marriage, divorce, or a child's birth, and to acquire official family documents. The changes are expected to give Saudi women more control over family matters such as easing the difficulties women face in obtaining a national identity card and enrolling their children in school.
Saudi women are also now allowed to be the legal guardian of their children, which was a right previously only held by men.
The royal decree prompted celebratory posts by Saudis on Twitter, and most featured memes showing people running to the airport with their luggage. Other users gave their gratitude to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is believed to be the driving force behind the many social and cultural changes in the kingdom.
The recent changes also generated backlash from conservatives, who went to social media and posted clips of senior Saudi clerics who have argued in favour of male guardianship laws in past years.
Male guardianship laws still in place
While the royal decree loosened the strict regulations, it did not completely abolish the kingdom's guardianship system.
Male consent is still mandatory for a woman to marry, be released from prison, leave a domestic abuse shelter, and unlike men, women cannot give consent for their children to marry or pass on Saudi citizenship to their children.
Women must rely on their male relatives' personal notions and "goodwill" to determine most decisions in their lives. There have been cases wherein Saudi women could not accept scholarships to study abroad because they were not given permission to travel.
Lynn Malouf, Middle East Research Director for Amnesty International, said the guardian laws have "been a stifling system in the daily lives of women in Saudi Arabia."
"These reforms really are a testament to the work of the brave activism and the suffering and the ordeals Saudi women and men fought for in their calls for reform," she added.
Other monumental changes made in Saudi Arabia include lifting the ban on women driving, permitting concerts and cinemas in the kingdom, and allowing women to watch sports at stadiums. The moves were made to bring more women into the workforce, as part of an ambitious economic transformation plan - Saudi Arabia 2030.
“Saudis don’t want to lose their identity, but we want to be part of the global culture,” Crown Prince bin Salman said in a previous interview when inquired about the future of the male guardianship laws.
He added that he wants to merge Saudi culture with a global identity.