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Saudi Arabia lifts travel restrictions on women

August 2, 2019

Saudi Arabia has amended several laws to give women more rights and freedoms. But critics say the reforms are window dressing unless the male "guardianship" system is completely abolished.

Saudi candidate Amal Badreldin al-Sawari stands outside a polling station after
Image: Getty Images/F.Nureldine

Saudi Arabia will allow adult women to obtain passports and travel without the permission of a male "guardian," the government has announced.

Decrees published in the official gazette on Friday state that any citizen above the age of 21 who applies for a passport should be issued one and that they do not need permission to travel. The amendments are gender neutral and don't specifically mention women.

Read more: Saudi Arabia easing male guardianship law: True reform or symbolic PR?

"A passport will be granted to any Saudi national who submits an application," reads the ruling in the official gazette Umm Al Qura.

The new regulations also give women the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce, to be issued family documents and to be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors. They also expand work opportunities for women.

The conservative kingdom has long been under international scrutiny for its policy requiring women to get permission from their male "guardians" — husband, father and other male relatives — to marry, travel and do many other things.

The kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to burnish his image as a liberal reformer by easing social restrictions, such as lifting a ban on women driving last year and allowing more mixed-sex entertainment.

Guardianship system remains

Critics say the piecemeal reforms, while necessary, are overshadowed by an authoritarian system that muzzles all dissent.

The easing on driving restrictions last year was followed by the arrest of a dozen women's rights activists, some of whom claim they were tortured and abused.

There have also been several cases of young women seeking asylum abroad, including in Germany, on claims of gender-based repression.

Read more: Saudi women refugees in Germany still living in fear

Even with the new regulations, many restrictions will remain in force — the consent of a guardian will still be required if a woman wants to marry or leave a women's shelter.

Regina Nasr, a Saudi feminist who lives in Australia, told DW earlier this month that the crown prince's reforms are "really just an effort to placate the international community."

cw/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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