Saudi Arabia is known for being one of the most oppressive countries for women. The country operates under a legal guardianship system, which prohibits women from making autonomous decisions about marriage and travel without the consent of a male relative. However, on August 1st, that all changed. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced a partial abolishment of the guardianship laws that leave women’s lives in the hands of men.
Women are now allowed to obtain a passport and travel without a husband or father’s permission, travel independently, and receive equal treatment in the workplace.
The guardianship system is regarded as “the key obstacle to women’s participation in society and economy” by gender studies experts in the United Nations. Its creation was inspired by an ancient Islamic verse that states men are “the protectors and maintainers of women.” The laws are so restrictive that earlier this year, an American-born woman wasn’t allowed to leave the country without her ex-husband’s approval. Many women have attempted to flee the country in attempts to escape this oppression.
The extension of women’s rights has seen steady growth in the last few years. Saudi women were hopeful when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to loosen some restrictions on women under his regime. His appointment promises a brighter future for Saudi women, as he plans to reform the Kingdom into a less conservative presence. In June 2018, women were finally allowed to drive after the long standing policy limited their freedom and mobility. The country also appointed its first female ambassador to the U.S. earlier this year.
The progressive policy changes are also the result of hard work and perseverance from women’s rights advocacy groups in the highly restrictive country. In recent years, Saudi authorities have reinforced the mistreatment of human’s rights activists. In 2018, that same political repression extended to leading women’s rights advocates who publicly bashed the guardianship system. Several women were arrested, sent to prison, and even tortured.
Still, the relentless women’s rights activists and many residents inspired the Crown Prince to put forth the royal decree that disbands some of the most significant policies within the guardianship system.
Slowly but surely, Saudi Arabia is getting closer and closer to liberating women and giving them a future to look forward to.