Women in Saudi Arabia are to get more basic freedoms as the king relaxes the country’s controversial guardianship laws. The KSA continues to be one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations.
At present women must live under the supervision of a male guardian, requiring his permission to do things like travel, access education, see doctors, get married or make police complaints.
However, King Salman has just issued an order allowing women to benefit from government services such as education and healthcare without needing their male guardian’s consent.
Although this isn’t an end to the guardianship system altogether, it is a major first step towards emancipation for women in the country.
According to Maha Akeel, a women’s rights campaigner and director of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, this could mean women are able to study, access hospital treatments, work in the public and private sector, and even represent themselves in court without needing the consent of their guardian. ‘Now at least it opens the door for discussion on the guardian system,’ he added. ‘Women are independent and can take care of themselves.’
This comes after years of protests from feminists in Saudi Arabia who have fought for an end to the archaic practice.
At least 14,000 others signed a petition calling for an end to the highly restrictive law, and an online movement grew under the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian.
The groundbreaking petition was started and then hand-delivered by activist Aziza Al-Yousef, who was arrested in 2013 for deliberately breaking the country’s ban on women driving. In December 2015, Saudi women were allowed to vote in municipal elections for the first time.