Saudi Arabia Permits Women to Travel Without Male Approval


03 August, 2019

Saudi Arabia says it will soon permit all citizens age 21 and older – including women – to travel by choice and independently.

The changes are part of a set of new laws published Friday. They are set to go into effect later this month. They end a long-standing guardianship policy that had restricted women's freedom of movement.

In photo taken June 22, 2018, women wait in line to ride go carts at a road safety event for female drivers launched at the Riyadh Park Mall in Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
In photo taken June 22, 2018, women wait in line to ride go carts at a road safety event for female drivers launched at the Riyadh Park Mall in Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The country's legal system treats adult women as minors. It requires women to seek permission from male relatives to do many things, including traveling. A woman's guardian might be her father, husband or even her own son.

The new rules, approved by King Salman and his cabinet, also permit any adult citizen to apply for a Saudi passport on their own. Women had needed male permission to do so.

Many Saudis celebrated the changes. Some published memes showing people running to the airport with their belongings. Others praised Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, who is believed to be the force behind the new laws.

But more conservative Saudis criticized the changes. On social media, they shared already published videos of top Saudi leaders arguing in favor of guardianship laws.

Other changes published Friday permit women to register a marriage or its ending, and a child's birth. The new rules also protect women from discrimination in the workplace and give them the right to open and run a business.

There are still rules in place that require a male relative's permission for a woman to leave prison, leave a domestic abuse shelter or marry. Women, unlike men, still cannot pass on their citizenship to their children and cannot give permission for their children to marry.

For years, state-supported religious leaders told the Saudi public that women should not travel for more than one night alone. They argued this was a traditional Islamic rule.

Other Muslim countries, however, do not have similar restrictions on women's travel. Saudi leaders have said the Islamic holy book states that men are the protectors and keepers of women.

Other Islamic experts argue this ignores important Islamic ideas such as equality and respect between the sexes.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

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Words in This Story

apply – v. to ask formally for something (such as a job, admission to a school, a loan, etc.) usually in writing

guardian – n. someone or something that watches or protects something — often

meme – n. an amusing or interesting picture, video, etc., that is spread widely through the Internet

prior – adj. existing earlier in time

domestic - adj. relating to or involving someone's home or family