Thursday, August 1, 2019

Saudi women can now travel without male guardian's approval – report

Okaz newspaper reports key step in dismantling strict controls over nation’s women
Saudi woman at the wheel of a car
 A Saudi Information Ministry image, from 2018, before the kingdom lifted its ban on women driving. Photograph: AP
Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer need the permission of a male guardian to travel, according to local news reports. The policy, if confirmed, would mark a key step in dismantling controls that have made women second-class citizens in their own country.
Saudi women over the age of 21 will be able to apply for a passport and travel outside the country, without approval, Okaz newspaper reported on Thursday. The change would put them on an equal footing with men. They would also reportedly be able to register births and deaths, a right previously restricted to men.
The paper did not say where it got the information, but the country’s official gazette tweeted that amendments to travel rules, labour law and civil status law would be included in its next edition, Bloomberg reported.
The reported move comes at a time of increased international scrutiny of women’s status in Saudi Arabia. In recent months several young women have fled the country and made public pleas for help in seeking asylum from their family and the government.
Last year authorities arrested many of the country’s most prominent female campaigners in a sweeping crackdown on activists.
The country’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to present himself as a modernist reformer since being appointed heir to the throne in 2017. Critics say the jailing of female activists under his watch and the treatment of dissidents, including Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, suggests the regime only wants change on its terms.
Prince Mohammed has brought in sweeping social and economic changes, aimed partly at weaning the country off its dependence on oil revenue. He has also dismantled some of the strictest controls over women. Last year a driving ban was lifted, and rules were altered freeing women from needing permission from a male guardian to study at university, undergo surgery or get a job.
The crown prince has also curbed the powers of the religious police, who once pursued women they considered immodestly dressed to check they had a guardian’s permission for their activities. They also broke up mixed-sex gatherings.
The changes were welcomed by activists who say Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system has kept its women in a legal limbo as “perpetual minors” and should be dismantled entirely.
Prince Mohammed has also been criticised for Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s brutal civil war, and his relentless pursuit of opponents at home and abroad, most prominently of Khashoggi. A forensic and damning UN report said that the crown prince should be investigated over the murder because there was “credible evidence” that he and other senior officials were liable for the killing. He has denied any involvement.

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