New Saudi travel rules a step forward

Saudi Arabia flag

New laws have been passed in Saudi Arabia that mean that women will no longer need the permission of a male guardian to travel.

The royal decrees published in the kingdom’s official weekly Umm al-Qura gazette today (2 August 2019) mean that women aged 21 and over can travel abroad without prior consent and that any citizen can apply for a Saudi passport on their own.

This is significant progress given that, previously, it was necessary for women to be granted consent to travel by a designated male family member. This is due to traditional, tribal families perceiving the protection of women as a man’s duty.

The kingdom has come under scrutiny for this rule, as well as others, including the need for a woman to obtain male consent to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry. In recent months, several young women have fled the country and made public pleas for help in seeking asylum.

As such, the new rules are a huge step forward. In addition to being able to travel without male permission, the new laws mean that women can register a marriage, divorce or child’s birth and be issued official family documents and that a father or mother can be legal guardians of children.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, tweeted about the topic: “Saudi has promised to end the guardianship system over the past decade at least a few times at the UN Human Rights Council sessions. But it has only done it in dribs and drabs. But this will be a big deal if promise is kept. Keep in mind, the women who have struggled and sacrificed for years to end the male guardianship system remain jailed and face long prison sentences for no reason than having demanded what the government has now promised to do.”