King issues order allowing Saudi women newfound freedoms

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced new measures to loosen restrictions on the male guardianship system governing Saudi women.

Salman reportedly issued a directive to government offices that relaxes the stringent rules of the male guardian system, marking another step toward women’s emancipation in the kingdom, according to statement on the Saudi Human Rights Commission’s website.

The order allows Saudi women to receive government services such as education and health care without the approval of a male guardian.

As such, women could study and access hospital treatments, work in the public and private sectors, independently represent themselves in court, as well as issue and renew passports and travel abroad without needing a guardian’s permit, according to Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen, a senior member of the Saudi-based National Society for Human Rights.

She added that it means “the legislations that demand a male guardian have been amended.”

“Shariah law does not necessitate male guardianship of women because we are perfectly competent,” Al-Abideen said.

Newsweek reports that under the current guardian system:

“Women must have a permission of a male relative to marry, travel abroad, obtain a passport, exit prison, and to carry out a range of other activities, including renting an apartment and filing legal claims. While women are not legally bound to obtain a male guardian’s permission to work, some jobs may still require it. Women in Saudi Arabia are also still unable to drive.”

Maha Akeel, a women’s rights activist and director of the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation told reporters the male guardianship system is “un-Islamic and humiliating for women. Some (men) take advantage of this male guardianship for their own benefit and abuse it.”

Human Rights Watch also called the male guardianship “the most significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country, effectively rendering adult women legal minors who cannot make key decisions for themselves.”

The human rights organization added the guardianship system leaves women vulnerable to abusive relationships, and they often face “tremendous obstacles when trying to seek help or flee abuse by violent guardians.”

This recent measure to relax restrictions is the latest in a series taken by the Saudi government since 2012 to allow more women more freedoms and to participate in the workforce and society. Women were granted to right to vote in 2015 and work in limited retail or hospitality jobs, as well as given permission to compete in the Olympics in 2012.

In the following brief documentary, Saudi women who fled their country speak out about restrictions they faced.

H/T: Daily Mail, Newsweek

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