Saudi Arabia is planning to lift male guardianship restrictions on women wanting to travel outside of the country, according to international reports.
The change to travel restrictions on women was reported by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, citing senior government officials, who said the changes to law will be enacted this year.
According to the Journal, the plan would “end guardianship laws pertaining to travel for men and women over 18 years old, allowing them to leave the country without the consent of a designated male family member.”
Currently, Saudi Arabia is home to a male guardianship system that gives men considerable legal power over women. As it stands, women are required to have a male guardian (father, husband, son, brother or uncle) who has far reaching control over many aspects of their life. Most notably, women need permission from their male guardian to travel, obtain a passport, undergo medical procedures, enroll in school, marry and open bank accounts.
“There is no question that the leadership, the government and the people want to see this system changed,” a Saudi royal family member told the Wall Street Journal. “The current discussion is about how to make this happen as soon as possible without causing a stir.”
Other parts of the male guardianship system, like the need for a woman to obtain permission to marry, will remain firmly in place amidst changes to the travel restrictions.
The relaxation of travel restrictions comes after Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women has come under global scrutiny this year, when a series of young women fled the country as asylum seekers. Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq al-Qunun was one of the women who came to international attention, after she escaped her abusive family and fled to Thailand, where she barricaded herself in a hotel room and demanded access to the UN via Twitter. After a tumultuous experience, she was eventually granted asylum in Canada.
استناداً إلى اتفاقية 1951 وبروتوكول عام 1967 ، أنا رهف محمد ، أطلب رسمياً من الأمم المتحده تمنحني وضع لاجئ لأي دولة تحميني من التعرض للضرر أو القتل بسبب ترك الدين والتعذيب من عائلتي. https://t.co/dym3rDB1jz
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
The lift on male guardianship travel restrictions is the latest in a small series of wins for Saudi women.
Last year, in a monumental shift to the lives of women in the Saudi Arabia, the controversial ban on female drivers was lifted. Months later, women were allowed to attend a live soccer game for the first time in history.
When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was asked by The Atlantic about the male guardianship system in 2018, he said he wanted to move on from the laws.
“It doesn’t go back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. In the 1960s women didn’t travel with male guardians. But it happens now, and we want to move on it and figure out a way to treat this that doesn’t harm families and doesn’t harm the culture.”