Saudi Women May Soon be Able to Travel without a Man's Permission

This would be a major change in the kingdom's guardianship laws.

Jul 28, 2019

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Saudi Arabia may soon be relaxing its strict guardianship laws and begin allowing women to travel without a male relative's permission. This is a giant step for women's rights in the conservative kingdom whose track record on women has been far from sterling.

The planned changes in the guardianship laws would lift the restrictions on women over the age of 18, according to Saudi Arabia’s Okaz, as well as lift restrictions on international travel for men under the age of 21.

While the ban on women driving was lifted in 2018 along with the relaxing of laws requiring male permission to get  a job and to enroll in a university, Saudi women still need the consent of a husband or other male relative to make major decisions that include marriage, divorce, child custody, as well as getting a passport.

The changes to the guardianship laws are believed to be the recommendation of a government committee that was set-up in 2017 to review the countries implementation of them according to The Guardian. The laws have been under a lot of scrutiny after women from the kingdom fled the country seeking asylum. There have been no official announcements by the government to confirm the changes.

“There is no question that the leadership, the government and the people want to see this system changed,” a Saudi royal with knowledge of the planned changes told the Wall Street Journal. “The current discussion is about how to make this happen as soon as possible without causing a stir.”

While this move to greater freedom for women has been welcomed, many human rights and women's rights organizations remain skeptical.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told the Guardian, “We certainly hope it’s true. It’s odd that this news has not come from an official announcement, but it could be a sign that internally there is an effort to leak information like this to pressure [Saudi crown prince] Mohammed bin Salman into actually making this move.”

Bin Salman is the kingdom's de facto ruler since 2017 when he was appointed heir to the throne. He has implemented sweeping economic and social reforms that are designed to wean the country off of its dependence on oil revenue.

“If it does happen it would lead to a spike in women seeking asylum. It would also be a huge fanfare for [Bin Salman’s] supposed credentials as a reformer,” said Hala al-Dosari, a Saudi activist and academic based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Still, women in Saudi Arabia are hopeful. “It is absolutely crucial if we want to move forward as a country,” Huda, a 30-year-old from Jeddah told the Wall Street Journal. “I am hopeful,” she said.

Change comes slowly in this region. Even if the country modernizes its laws and gives women equal rights, with traditions that are strongly entrenched, it could take a long time for society to change its attitudes about the traditional roles of men and women. But any step in the right direction is a step towards a better future for coming generations.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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