Travel yes, marry no - What Saudi women still can't do

Sunday, 04 Aug, 2019

Saudi Arabia has ended a bevy of legal restrictions on women - including restraints on applying for passports and traveling overseas without the approval of a male relative - in what was celebrated as another step in the dismantling of the much-vilified "Wilayah", or guardianship system.

Nevertheless, Reem Bandar Al-Saud, the country's first female ambassador to the USA, tweeted that she was "elated" with the amendments and that they would "elevate the status of Saudi women within our society".

The government of Saudi Arabia has announced amendments to its laws to allow women travel overseas without permission from their guardians, a condition that had faced heavy criticisms. In recent years a number of women have attempted to flee Saudi Arabia and gain refugee status overseas, with several cases resulting in high-profile media attention.

From driving to traveling overseas, Saudi women have been granted new freedoms in recent years, as the Islamic kingdom eases restrictions seen by rights activists as repressive.

In January this year, Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq al-Qunun, 18, fled to Thailand through Kuwait, after she feared her family would kill her for renouncing Islam.

The changes are a potential game-changer for Saudi women's rights in the kingdom. Friday's decree affords women greater freedom of movement and also grants women the right to officially register childbirth, marriage or divorce, though it is unclear when the new order will take effect.

It is a victory for women's rights in the kingdom.

The changes followed years of campaigning by rights activists who said women lived as second-class citizens in the country.

"Some women's dreams were aborted due to inability to leave the country for whatever study overseas, a work opportunity, or even flee if so desired", Saudi businesswoman Muna Abu Sulayman said on Twitter. Driving ban on Saudi women was lifted in 2018.

The organization said in a statement that Saudi women still face constraints, including the need to have permission from their guardians (fathers or husbands) for obtaining passports, travelling outside the Kingdom or doing a study overseas, or marrying.

Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the USA, on Friday morning said she was "elated" to confirm the new changes to the country's labour and civil law. What's been the reaction to those advocating for human rights in Saudi Arabia?

Women who marry a foreigner can not pass citizenship onto their children.

"If Saudi Arabia wants to show the world it is truly serious about improving the rights of women, the authorities must drop all charges against the defenders of women's rights who have been crucial in pushing for these kinds of reforms through their activism".

"These new regulations are history in the making".

MBS has also curbed the power of its feared religious police force known for harassing and even jailing women for how they dressed.