Saudi Arabia decrees sweeping changes to women's rights

Saudi women hail 'history in the making' after King Salman enacts laws for obtaining passports and expanding employment and family rights

Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer need the permission of male guardians to travel or obtain a passport after decrees were signed by King Salman.

Cabinet decrees published by the official Saudi gazette on Friday stipulate the right of every Saudi citizen over the age of 21 to obtain a passport and limits the need for a guardian’s approval to minors only.

The former system required women to seek permission of their guardian – usually their father or husband, but sometimes a brother or son – to marry, apply for a passport and leave the country.

The amendments also grant women the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce, and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 24, 2018 Saudi Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud speaks during the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia on Saturday named a princess as its first woman ambassador to the United States, a key appointment as the fallout over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder tests relations between the allies. Princess Reema bint Bandar replaced Prince Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of the powerful crown prince who was appointed vice defence minister in a flurry of late-night royal decrees announced on state media.

Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, said she was “elated” by the moves from Riyadh.

“I am elated to confirm that KSA will be enacting amendments to its labour and civil laws that are designed to elevate the status of Saudi women within our society, including granting them the right to apply for passports and travel independently,” she said in a series of tweets.

“These developments have been a long time coming,” she added. “From the inclusion of women in the consultative council to issuing driving licenses to women, our leadership has proved its unequivocal commitment to gender equality.

"These new regulations are history in the making."

Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, congratulated Saudi Arabia on its "confident steps towards development and modernisation".

Last year, the kingdom lifted the ban on driving for women, who also no longer need permission from a male guardian to study at university, undergo surgery or get a job.

The royal decrees issued on Friday also cover employment regulations, with the intention of expanding work opportunities for women, who represent a significant amount of unemployed Saudis.

About 20 per cent of Saudi female workforce were unemployed in 2018, according to the latest figures from the World Bank.

The documents say that all citizens in the country have the right to work without facing discrimination based on gender, disability or age.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has lifted restrictions, many of which apply solely to women, to transform the country's economy.

In 2016, he unveiled a plan to diversify the economy by 2030 and try to increase women's participation in the workforce to 30 per cent from 22 per cent.

In January the Ministry for Labour and Social Development issued a raft of directives regarding the working environment for women, including the demand that women are paid equally with men.

Ivanka Trump was among a number of women to hail the move on social media.

While Saudi chat show host Muna AbuSulayman said the changes had made 2019 "more historic".


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