Saudi Arabia announced a landmark change to its legal system Friday that grants women the right to work and allows them travel independently without getting permission from a male guardian. The changes aimed at empowering women in the deeply conservative society loosen the country’s “guardianship” system that restricts women to the legal status equivalent to that of minors. Women will now be able to apply for passports and travel abroad without needing their male guardian’s approval. Women will also now be able to serve as legal guardian to their children. The changes approved by the Saudi cabinet and published in the government gazette Friday also declare that “work is the right of the citizen,” formally outlawing workplace discrimination based on gender.
The changes are part of an economic and cultural overhaul by Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Last year, the women were issued drivers licenses for the first time after a ban on women driving was abolished. Under the guardianship system, all women have a male guardian, usually a husband, father or brother, that have legal authority over them. Women, for instance, still need permission from their guardian to get married or divorced, along with a host of other important personal decisions, including getting some medical procedures. Previously, women needed permission to travel and if they didn’t have a passport of their own, they were given a page in their male guardian’s passport.
“These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society,” Reema Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s first female ambassador to the United States said on Twitter. “These developments have been a long time coming.”