Saudi women to now hold independent passports. Is it the beginning to the end of guardianship system?


August 1st, 2019, will remain etched in Saudi history as a new reform allowing Saudi women to apply for passport and travel without male guardian, is approved. According to CNN, the new amendment will take effect from August end, this year.

The amendment will allow all Saudi women, aged 21 years and above, to apply for passports and travel abroad independently without acquiring a guardian’s legal consent. Saudi women can now also acquire family documents, such as birth certificates for their children, from the government. These reforms are said to be in tandem with the government’s vision for 2030, that looks to elevate women’s status in society and bring more workforce into the system to improve the economy.

 Women in most of countries around the world are at liberty to take their freedom for granted. However, in certain parts of the world, women still are being treated as second-class citizens.

Cases of hundreds of Saudi women fleeing the conservative kingdom, seeking shelter in the Western world hits the headlines every year. The infamous guardianship system confers all the rights over a woman, irrespective of her age, to her male guardian, who could be a father, a brother, a husband or even a son! This blatant right to almost ownership over the other human being, often leads to oppression and atrocities.

According to a report published in Reuters, Saudi Arabia remains to be one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations in the world, leaving women to face systematic discrimination. Essentially, the country deemed their women as permanent legal minors.

The fight against this unjust system began decades ago, however, it attracted global attention with the “I Am My Own Guardian” campaign floated on social media in 2016. The campaign demanded legal representation for women. A petition signed by more than 14,000 Saudi women was handed over to the government.

According to ‘revolutionary socialism in the 21st century’, Saudi government announced its intention to loosen the guardianship system and accordingly, issued directives in 2017 that allowed women to avail education, access healthcare, and work in public sector without the consent of a male guardian. It is said that although the directives were issued, its implementation remained a question!

It took a long fight and sacrifices of the women protestors that in September, the same year, ban against women driving as lifted!

 Some freedoms that were granted under the regime of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, not only ended a ban on women driving, but allowed women to register a marriage, divorce or a child’s birth, and obtain official documents. Saudi women are now also allowed to be legal guardians of their children, a right previously held only by men.

Although, the guardianship law has been loosened a lot, women in Saudi Arabia are still required to obtain male consent in order to leave a prison. Also, they are not permitted by law to pass on citizenship to their children.  Let’s understand how this could be a problem amidst the liberties conferred. Should a woman driver commit a traffic offence and get arrested, she would continue to remain at mercy of her guardian to come out of the jail.  A report on DW  has questioned the very intent of loosening the guardianship system as being a genuine effort to uplift women or if it’s a mere PR stunt. The article on DW claims that the Women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who advocated lifting the driving ban in Saudi Arabia, was arrested last year and remains incarcerated to this day.

While the doubts remain looming over the government’s move, many still consider the lifting of ban on travel and other such privileges conferred to women as a welcoming gesture and have expressed

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