Saudi women gain right to travel without permission

Saudi Arabia will allow women to travel without permission, ending controversial restrictions under the country’s “male guardian” system that have been criticized by international human rights organizations.

Amendments to existing laws announced Friday that allow women to travel independently follow last June’s rule change that permitted women to drive for the first time. Photo by Ahmed Yosri

Under the new amendments made through royal decree and announced Friday, passports will be issued to any Saudi citizen who applies for one and any person above 21 years of age does not require permission to travel.

The decrees also allow women to register the birth of a child, a privilege previously only warranted to men.

Women will also be allowed to register a death, a marriage or a divorce through the decrees that rewrote the laws in gender-neutral terms.

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States Reema Bandar Al-Saud said she was “elated” to announce the news.

“These new regulations are history in the making,” she said. “They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society. It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women.”

She said these changes have been in the making for a while, following the country’s move last June to allow women to drive and the inclusion of women in its consultative council in 2013.

“Women have always played an integral role in our country’s development and they will continue to do so moving forward on equal footing with their male counterparts,” she said.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz announced in 2016 a plan titled Vision 2030, which aims to make the country less dependent on its main commodity, oil. One of the ways it envisages to do this is to increase women in the workplace by 22 percent.

U.S.-based human rights and anti-war group CODEPINK said it was “thrilled” about the announcement but demands that it do away with the entire male guardianship system and other laws that repress woman.

“Saudi women have a long way to go to achieve equality,” the group said in a statement. “Most important is for Saudi women to have the right to openly advocate for their rights. Now, these rights are ‘bestowed upon them’ by male rulers and women who fight for their rights are jailed, tortured, fired from their job and in other ways silenced. The Saudi rulers must open the system so that woman can openly advocate for the changes they want to see.”

ByDarryl Coote