After her legal guardian turned down suitor after suitor, Ms Alfadl, 27, had no recourse but to turn to the law.
"My uncle is my legal guardian, because I lost my father when I was young, and he kept rejecting proposals that came my way because the men did not belong to our tribe, nor to an elite class," Ms Alfadl, who withheld her first name for privacy reasons, told The National.
“This is not right and not in our religion. I fought after suffering for six years and won my case this year.”
In a similar case recently, a court in Riyadh removed the guardianship rights of a father who was preventing his daughter's marriage. The young woman had urged the court to transfer her guardianship to the Sharia authority, represented by the judge.
The justice ministry said the court completed the legal procedures within five days of the woman filing the case.
Lawyers and officials say such rulings reflect an era of progressive reforms in the kingdom, where the guardianship system has at last been dismantled.
In recent reforms, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 programme, women are being given much more autonomy. They are allowed to drive, register for marriage or divorce, obtain their child’s birth certificate and be the legal guardian of their children after divorce. Saudi women over 21 are now allowed to apply for passports and travel without a male guardian.
Bayan Zahran, a Saudi lawyer, said there had been noticeable advancements in women’s rights in the judicial system, including in the cases known as Adl – where women are being prevented from marrying by their male guardians.
“The Supreme Judicial Council made a decision that these cases should not be delayed,” she said.
Saudi laws are built to protect women who depend on male guardians, to ensure they cannot harm them, Ms Zahran said.
Laws introduced in 2019 grant women the right to register a divorce or a marriage and apply for official documents without requiring their guardians’ permission.
“There are many cases where women, either fighting for custody of their children or to get married, are always obstructed by their male guardians. The problem is that most women don’t know the law works in their favour,” said Layan Najdi, a women’s counsellor in Riyadh.
"If the woman and her guardian fail to reconcile, the judge suggests her guardianship is transferred to another blood relative, and if this is rejected then the judge himself assumes guardianship [under] Article 33 of the Legal Procedures Law that allows civil courts to intervene and help," Ms Najdi told The National.
This year, the Ministry of Justice granted women further legal rights, including the right to be present during the drafting of their marriage contracts, so they could approve the terms and also to confirm they were satisfied with their prospective partners. The new law ensures women can sign the contract without coercion.
Qais Bin Muhammad Mubarak, former member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said a woman’s presence during the drafting of her marriage contract is her right and that she had the authority to appoint a guardian specifically for that purpose.
He said the wife's consent is a condition for the validity of marriage, and the majority of jurists ruled that the guardian's presence is essential, saying this will help to protect her rights.
Dr Issa Al Ghaith, member of the Shura Council, said this would help in cases where people prevent their daughters from being physically present during the framing of marriage contracts, under the pretext of customs and traditions, and that there is no religious or legal objection for her attendance.
In September, the Ministry of Justice introduced electronic marriage contract services online through the ezawaj.sa website.
"This has changed our lives, we never thought we could get married online," said Nida Hashim, 23, a student in Jeddah who used the portal to apply to marry.
"The government has not only found us a solution during Covid-19, but especially for women who face issues with families or guardians, who now have an easier, hassle-free procedure.”