Women in Saudi Arabia can now travel abroad freely without requiring the permission of a guardian. These are some of the changes introduced by the new regulations announced on Friday. The laws are a progressive step towards abolishing laws that make women lesser citizens.
The new laws grant women over 21 the right to handle various family matters, including matters on marriage, divorce and registering a child’s birth. Women can now get family documents that are crucial to the subsequent acquisition of a national identity card and enrolment of children in school.
Part of the decree allows women to apply for passports without the approval of a guardian. The laws will also see women enjoy protection from employment discrimination.
Despite the reforms being long overdue, they grant women a lot more control over their lives. Unfortunately, women activists who fought for these reforms remain on trial or in prison for their advocacy.
Although the reforms under Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, remain the most transformative yet, many things remain unchanged. Women still need male consent to marry or exit a domestic abuse shelter. Unlike men, a woman in Saudi Arabia cannot pass on her citizenship to her children. She cannot give consent to her children to marry.
The guardianship system has left women with very limited autonomy, leaving them to rely on the “goodwill” of their male relatives to determine the course of their lives.
Saudi Arabia has been scrutinized a lot recently due to the high number of women escaping the desert country and making public pleas of asylum from their family and the state.
Since his appointment to the throne in 2017, the crown prince has presented himself as a modernist reformer. A few situations have however brought criticism upon the regime, such as the treatment of rebels including Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Notable economic and social changes from the crown prince include moving the country from its dependence on oil revenue. Last year, women saw the ban against driving lifted. Autonomy in decisions such as getting a job, having surgery or going to the university was also granted.
Practically, it will take a while for these laws to take root in households. Basic gender equality will eventually be achieved. For now, changes will occur one law at a time.
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