Saudi Arabian Women Can Now Apply for Passports

Saudi women stand next to the Saudi pavilion at the Gitex 2018 exhibition at the Dubai World Trade Center in Dubai on October 2018. AFP

Saudi women stand next to the Saudi pavilion at the Gitex 2018 exhibition at the Dubai World Trade Center in Dubai on October 2018. AFP

One of the new cabinet decrees published by the official Saudi gazette on Friday, August 2, allows women over the age of 21 to apply for a passport without authorization and travel without the guardianship of a man. In some cases, the male guardian was a woman's own son granting her the necessary travel permissions. This is yet another solution that weakens the current system of male custody of women, for which the country has been criticized overseas. 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.

Last year, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz issued a decree allowing women - for the first time in the kingdom's history - to drive and obtain driver's licenses.

In March of this year actually, Saudi Arabia had pledged before the United Nations Human Rights Council to abolish fully the male guardianship system.

Women were only granted the right to vote in Saudi Arabia in 2015. Women were also granted the right to register child births, marriages and divorces. Now, these rights are "bestowed upon them" by male rulers while women who fight for their rights are jailed, tortured, fired from their jobs, and in other ways silenced.

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The decision "would give women a chance to travel without the approval of their father or husband which is forbidden in Islamic law", said Rahaf, a 26-year-old resident of Riyadh, who asked for her last name not to be used.

The reform comes as Saudi Arabia faces heightened worldwide scrutiny over its human rights record, including an ongoing trial of women activists who have long demanded that the guardianship system be dismantled.

The decades-long decree banning women from driving - the last law of its kind in the world - was finally overturned in June previous year.

Ultimately, if Saudi Arabia is serious about improving the situation of women and human rights in the country, these women human rights defenders should be released unconditionally. "It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women", she said.

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"From my heart, I'm rejoicing for the situation of many I know who suffer subjugation because of this issue", Hamsa Sonosi, a Saudi female writer and researcher, wrote on Twitter. They must still obtain a man's consent to get married.

The amendment, which limits state influence in the private sphere, could provoke family clashes and trigger an exodus of some women who have long waited to untether themselves from controlling guardians, observers say.

He has also led a simultaneous crackdown on activists, including detaining the country's leading women's rights activists who had demanded an end to the very male guardianship rules now being curtailed.

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