As part of the drive to modernize Saudi Arabia, Riyadh has permitted women to travel overseas without approval from a male “guardian”, the government said, ending an archaic restriction that drew global criticism and ridicule.
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The landmark reform disintegrates the everlasting guardianship system that renders adult women as legal minors and allows their “guardians” — husband, father and other male relatives — to exercise arbitrary authority over them.
The decision, following years of campaigning by activists, comes after high-profile attempts by women to escape their guardians despite a series of reforms including a historic judgment last year that overturned the world’s only ban on female drivers.
“A passport will be granted to any Saudi national who submits an application,” said a government ruling published in the official gazette Umm al-Qura.
Women in the kingdom have long required permission from their male “guardians” to marry, renew their passports or exit the country. The reform grants women greater autonomy and mobility, the pro-government Saudi Gazette newspaper said, hailing the decision as “one giant leap for Saudi women”.
The changes announced Thursday also grant Saudi women what has long been a male entitlement — the right to officially register childbirth, marriage or divorce and to be recognised as a guardian to children who are minors.
The reform comes as Saudi Arabia faces heightened global scrutiny over its human rights record, including an ongoing trial of women activists who have long demanded that the guardianship system be dismantled. That includes Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent rights activist who marked her 30th birthday this week in a Saudi prison, campaigners said.
Alongside a sweeping crackdown on dissent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheads a wide-ranging liberalisation initiative that is directed at remodelling the conservative kingdom, long criticised for its treatment of women.
His reforms include the much-celebrated ruling allowing women to drive in June last year, allowing women to attend soccer games alongside men and take on jobs that once fell outside the narrow confines of traditional gender roles.